Monday, November 25, 2013



Listen to This Chilling Audio as Crowd at Boston Symphony Learns President Kennedy Is Dead

But there are times, of collective crisis or celebration, when music can remind us what a society is. And on Friday November 22, 1963, in a concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra that happened to also be a WGBH radio broadcast and so was captured for posterity, the BSO’s revered music director Erich Leinsdorf broke some unimaginable news to a crowded symphony hall. What was to have been a routine concert became a memorial to the 35th President of the United States, reduced audience members to tears and in some ways redefined what music could be for those present. It is also, surely, one of the most emotional pieces of radio ever recorded.

More here

I first encountered this moment last Friday on Maddow.  I was doing chores around the house and kind of listening to her as she explained the situation.  Erich Leinsdorf, conductor for the Boston Symphony Orchestra the night Kennedy was killed, had to announce the news, which broke right before curtain, to his audience.  Here's how my simple mind worked through it while Maddow spoke:  I probably would have made the announcement and cancelled the show.  I was even thinking about how the orchestra would take a financial hit from offering refunds, and what a drag it would be, a forgotten ripple-casualty of the JFK assassination.  

But that's not how it happened.   Leinsdorf, in the ten or so minutes he had before making his announcement, pulled from his company's archives and distributed to his musicians the funeral march from Beethoven's Third Symphony.  He spoke a few words, the audience reacted, and then the orchestra played.  The result is one of the most profound, staggering, and beautiful moments I have ever heard.  

My gut reaction would have been to withdraw.  This is no time for frivolity.  The President is dead.  Leinsdorf's reaction, in stark contrast to my own, puts me to shame.  This was a man who deeply and fully understood the role that the arts must necessarily play in human society, and in a time of absolute crisis, he calmly and deliberately put that understanding to work.  This is why the arts exist, to make aesthetic and emotional sense out of a totally senseless reality, to find and share the humanity in all situations, especially situations that are utterly inhumane.  The day our President was brutally gunned down on the streets of Dallas, Leinsdorf, and his orchestra, gave their audience the great gift of catharsis, immediately, without hesitation.  And whether the people in attendance that day were aware of it or not, they were in a much better position to accept and understand what had happened than people who weren't there.

In this age of rampant consumerism, mass media distraction, and widespread social disaffection, it is easy for me to forget why I chose to identify myself as an artist over two decades ago.  It is easy to lose sight of the fact that the arts don't simply have meaning and relevance, but that they are absolutely necessary to human existence.  We are nothing without art.  It is the expression of the human soul, for better or worse.

I must always remember that.