Written by Samuel Thompson
Published: July 15, 2015 at 9:25 PM [UTC]
As is normally the case, there have been great artistic and civic responses to these incidents in conjunction with very inspiring peaceful public outcry for systemic change. An art exhibit titled “Confronting Truths: WAKE UP!” that explores many of these inexplicable events has recently opened to much controversy.
Party People, a meticulously researched stage work created by UNIVERSES and premiered in 2012 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, addresses the historical context of current reactions to oppression through exploration of the work done by both the Black Panthers and the Young Lords. In Baltimore, a wellspring of conversation, artistic and citizen response has taken place, including the very recent opening of the Freddie Gray Empowerment Center.
While the profound civic discourse and artistic responses are indeed relevant and necessary, the classical music community has been noticeably silent. Eun Lee, the founder and one of the producers of The Dream Unfinished, found herself both intrigued and baffled by the lack of response from an industry that has over the last thirty years championed diversity and inclusiveness while simultaneously questioning its relevance. “Due to a lot of my friends and colleagues, I became very interested in this phenomenon post-Ferguson and Staten Island. I hoped to see a level of response from the classical music community that paralleled that of the larger community and found that the classical music community was both visibly and viscerally unresponsive.”
Through the years following the passage of both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, the classical music community has been responsive in redressing the absence of ethnic minorities in all levels of classical music performance. Since the founding of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s Music Assistance Fund, a program which awarded scholarships to musicians of color to assist with study at major music schools and conservatories, many orchestras across the United States have instituted fellowship programs through which musicians of African-American and Latino ancestry gained access to high-level orchestral training and exposure to conductors and coaches, all of which has proven beneficial to the establishment and maintenance of careers in classical music. The Sphinx Organization, through its annual competition for African-American and Latino musicians, has been instrumental in catapulting artists including violinists Tai Murray and Elena Urioste onto international concert platforms, and in recent years programs inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema have been established to provide classical music education to underserved populations.
As beneficial as these programs have been, Ms. Lee and her colleagues – in addition to a myriad of people actively involved in western classical music – believe that a more profound approach is needed that combines educational and artistic engagement with a true understanding of and willingness to address the issues that are thrust upon the communities served by said programs and initiatives.
“After reading many books including Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, I felt a real sense of urgency,” Ms. Lee said, “and found myself thinking that I could either participate in demonstrations of find out what I could uniquely do as a classical musician. As I spoke to friends and colleagues, the idea of a benefit concert came. The Dream Unfinished is a grass-roots group of classical musicians who are brave enough to make a statement and make their voices heard. While we were encouraged by some to present this concert outside as more of a protest, this is very much a concert as we want the music to speak for what the event is truly about.”
Much like the response to Philadelphia’s Burt Mason, principal trombonist of the Chamber Orchestra of New York; Jessica McJunkins, violinist and concertmaster of the Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra; David Bloom, co-artistic director and conductor of Contemporaneous and Lavoisier Cornerstone, a noted hip-hop artist and youth activist. The Dream Unfinished has also established meaningful partnerships with many organizations, and proceeds from the event will be directed to The Center for Constitutional Rights, Justice League NYC, Music Kitchen: Food for the Soul and the National Coalition of Law Enforcement Officers for Justice.
In the months preceding the July 17 concert, The Dream Unfinished presented three chamber music concerts featuring the works of Leonard Bernstein, William Grant Still and Jessie Montgomery, as works by these three composers will be presented during the orchestral concert which features seventy-five performers, including two students from Baltimore Symphony OrchKIDS, two alumni of Community MusicWorks, and one student from UpBeat, an El Sistema program in New York City. “During the chamber music concerts, Dr. Marty Newland performed two works by William Grant Still and related the texts of each work to particular victims of police brutality. This sense of relevance connected both the audiences and musicians in a very different and meaningful way,” Ms. Lee said. “We have also staged three flash mobs, which took place in Washington Square Park, Times Square, and Grand Central Station.” Panel discussions during which the intersection of race and classical music have also taken place, and through those discussions it became clear that artists within the classical music community also need a space in which they can discuss issues that directly impact them.
Watch as musicians for The Dream Unfinished: A Symphonic Benefit for Civil Rights take over Grand Central Terminal, Washington Square, and Union Square, to share Jessie Montgomery's #blacklivesmatter inspired piece "Soul Force" and then see a full orchestra perform it THIS FRIDAY! Be an instrument for change, get your tickets atwww.thedreamunfinished.eventbrite.comPosted by The Dream Unfinished on Monday, July 13, 2015
With the overwhelmingly positive and encouraging responses both from within and outside of the classical music community, Ms. Lee is already envisioning the next steps for The Dream Unfinished. “We definitely see a continuation of smaller events, including chamber music concerts and panel discussions. The classical music community does have a much deeper responsibility to the world in which it exists, and with The Dream Unfinished we are working to create a space in which this work can take place – work which benefits both working musicians and those who participate in the many established community engagement and educational programs across the nation who live in communities that are directly affected by the issues that we are addressing.”
While Ms. Lee admits that there has been a certain amount of “shock value” surrounding the fact that this is a classical music concert, she remains optimistic that the time has come for classical musicians not only to be concerned about the world, but also to be vocal about that concern. “This is about breaking the silence both within classical music and within the world at large, and about how classical music can be used to break that silence.”
THE DREAM UNFINISHED: A Symphonic Benefit for Civil Rights takes place on Friday, July 17 at 7:30 PM in the Salvation Army Centennial Memorial Temple, which is located at 120 West 14th Street
(near Sixth Avenue), New York.
For more information and to make a contribution, please visit
The Dream Unfinished.
For tickets, please visit thedreamunfinished.eventbrite.com.
Thank you for sharing this powerful piece, and it's sooo good to "see" you again, if only through your words. (And I must say, they/you are looking great!)
I will go to that site and get a link and Tweet about the event.
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