Friday, September 26, 2014

Aftertones of Silence

A very deep and profound piece of music was performed on the evening of September 25, 2014. At 7:30 PM, at the very time the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was to begin performing the opening concert of their 70th Anniversary Season, orchestra musicians, area students and devoted audience members stood in utter silence in front of the locked doors of the Woodruff Arts Center.

The "opening night" program.
I have been a working composer and performing musician for well over 30 years. I can tell stories of musical performances that were so moving that I could not read the music in front of me because of the tears that filled my eyes. I will add tonight’s event among the very top of these rare and beautiful experiences. It was a privilege to be standing shoulder to shoulder with so many people who love this orchestra and are truly devastated by the shabby treatment world class musicians are receiving at the hands of merciless administrators.

As we stood in huddled silence around the musicians, dressed in their concert black and cradling their precious instruments, I think we all instinctively knew that this was a seminal moment for this orchestra. More than that, it felt like a seminal moment for the entire city of Atlanta. This line drawn in the earth; this powerful deafening silence ringing through the skyscrapers of Midtown Atlanta; this flowering of support in a desert of despair - all bore witness to the resolve of many against the few arrogant forces seeking to undermine true artistry.

The scene in front of the Woodruff Arts Center: Sept. 25, 2014
When the silence reached its climax, the assembled began to applaud. And they continued to applaud. One by one, orchestra members turned and faced their audience. Many of them were visibly moved by this display of love and support. What a powerful moment! What a memorable performance! If we hadn’t really known before, we all knew then and there that the power of music to transform was real. It was real because we all stood transformed by silence and the mere memory of music. In that one moment, it was clear that lockouts and threats were powerless against the simple silence of principle and deep integrity. As a friend of mine in the orchestra reminded me this morning, this is a true existential moment for all of us who love the arts in this city. Though administrators may hide behind spreadsheets and budget reports, this conflict is not about money at all. This is a conflict between those who wish to control the transforming power of music and those who have dedicated their lives to liberating it for us all.

Normally, it is a composer that creates music that musicians perform. Tonight, however, the plaza of the Woodruff Arts Center rang with a piece of music that no composer could hope to match. It was a composition written in the hearts of the men and women of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

It is a work of art I will never forget.

No comments:

Post a Comment