Less than a week ago a horrible tragedy occurred in Newtown, Connecticut. By now most of us have wept copious tears and questioned both quietly and audibly how such a terrible event could take place. There will hopefully soon be meaningful dialogue, both among our citizenry and our legislators, about gun control and mental health, but this is not my subject today. It is instead how music can play such an important role for many of us in times of unspeakable horror, pain, and grief.
A quote that speaks for many musicians at such horrific times as we are experiencing right now comes from the lips of Leonard Bernstein, Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. He said these words immediately following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy: “This will be our response to violence – to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
An anthem sung by my church choir at the first anniversary of 9/11/01 has words that I believe also provide comfort in our current situation. The text is by Carl P. Daw, Jr. and the music is by Brad Printz.
When sudden terror tears apart the world we thought was ours,
We find how fragile strength can be, how limited our powers.
As tower and fortress fall, we watch with disbelieving stare
and numbly hear the anguished cries that pierce the ash-filled air.
Yet most of all we are aware of emptiness and void
of lives cut short, of structures razed, of confidence destroyed.
From this abyss of doubt and fear we grope for words to pray,
and hear our stammering tongues embrace a timeless Kyrie.
Have mercy, Lord, give strength and peace, and make our courage great;
restrain our urge to seek revenge, to turn our hurt to hate.
Help us to know your steadfast love, your presence near as breath;
rekindle in our hearts the hope of life that conquers death.
Another piece of music which provides consolation to me during these days of collective anguish come from the Jewish Book of Prayer. Set by composer Donald McCullough in a piece entitled “We Remember Them,” I know I will never be able to perform this piece again without thinking about the precious, innocent children and brave adults who lost their lives last Friday.
In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them.
In the howling of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.
In the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.
In the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.
When we are lost and sick of heart, we remember them.
When we have joys and special celebrations we yearn to share, we remember them.
So as long as we live, they too shall live, for they are part of us,
And we remember them.
A purely instrumental piece that I have found comforting these past few days is “Nimrod” from Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” I hope each of you has found some music or music with words that have provided you solace during this time. I invite you to share the titles here in order to offer support to someone else.