Why Commemorative Concerts?

In her recent Washington Post piece, Anne Midgette (a grown-up critic whose pant leg is my favorite to tug at ineffectually from down here at blog level) notes that Denyce Graves was last heard in the Washington area “at a concert commemorating the battle of Bull Run.” In the next paragraph, Midgette wonders, “How many commemorations do we need before we’re ready to move on?” In the case of the battles of Bull Run—the first and second of which each resulted in the loss of more American lives than did the events of September 11, 2001—the answer seems to be that even after 150 years, there’s room for one more.

Unlike those bloody days in the early 1860s, 9/11 is fresh in our national consciousness and in the memories of the bereaved, and it hasn’t lost its power over us as a menacing geopolitical omen—the “terminal crisis” of American hegemony, to borrow from Giovanni Arrighi. Like the battles of Bull Run, however, 9/11 is something people will gather in a concert hall to think about while music is played, given the chance. This is where I depart from Midgette: Why commemorative concerts?

There’s no danger that anyone will forget about 9/11, whose consequences—and the consequences of the propagandistic uses to which its appalling devastation has been put—we live with every day. Personally, I have no trouble recalling the image of a burning Pentagon which, as a college freshman in Baltimore, was my first inkling of the trouble to come and the certainty that my friends and I would be immediately drafted and summarily mowed down by AK-47s. Conversely, there’s only one affect that musical commemorations of 9/11 are allowed to convey, namely a kind of reverent solemnity. Who can object to that? There’s only one way to feel about 9/11 if you’re an American. That’s precisely why the notion of a commemorative concert seems wrong to me: Art, at the most basic level, is about different ways of feeling about things. Everyone had a different experience of 9/11, no question, but the point of commemorative concerts is to melt those particularities into a universal. I’d rather remember that day in silence.

4 thoughts on “Why Commemorative Concerts?

  1. Phil Fried

    One of the big changes to hit classical music over the last few decades has been its decline of social necessity. Commemorative concerts are one of the few things left to it.

    Reply
  2. Colin Holter

    One of the big changes to hit classical music over the last few decades has been its decline of social necessity.

    True enough, but I always wonder if “social necessity” – that is, the perceived value of classical music to upward social mobility – is something we’re better off without. To me, it seems like the wrong reason to support classical music; were those people who used to get all minked up and hit the opera to see and be seen really likely to have what we’d call genuine aesthetic experiences?

    The less damning version of this phenomenon is the faded “eat your vegetables” character of classical music, according to which listening to classical music was generally agreed to be a Good Thing To Do. This kind of social necessity is easier to get behind (albeit less profitable!), but as a practice it’s equally short on self-reflection. In other words, I don’t know that I’d rather people attend classical music concerts out of more or less oblique peer pressure than not attend them at all. I could be convinced, though.

    Reply
  3. Phil Fried

    No Colin, not that social necessity. True though. If upwardly mobile know your visual art and film and food but classical music is optional. Rather the social need of the public to take part in the classical music community. That social necessity. It’s a public event that most folks feel is appropriate for classical music to to have an important part and they will attend said event.

    Reply
  4. mclaren

    Colin Holter notes:There’s only one way to feel about 9/11 if you’re an American.

    Yes, shame and disgust and profound disgrace at the American reaction to it.

    What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

    A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

    The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it. — Paul Krugman, New York Times, “The Years of Shame,” 11 September 2011.

    It’s commonplace, even today, to speak of Ground Zero as `hallowed ground.’ How untrue. Ten years later, it is defiled ground and it’s we who have defiled it. It could have been different. The 9/11 attacks could have been like the Blitz in London in World War II. Something to remember forever with grim pride, stiff upper lip and all. (..)

    Unfortunately, they were not the measure of the moment. As a result, the uses of 9/11 in the decade since have added up to a profile in cowardice, not courage, and if we let it be used that way in the next decade, we will go down in history as a nation of cowards. — Tom Englehart, “Let’s Cancel 9/11:
    Bury the War State’s Blank Check at Sea,”
    Tomgram,11 September, 2011.

    Reply

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