I believe in the power of music.
It was the summer of 2007 and, as a member of the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, I donned my black attire for the first orchestra concert of the two-week intensive camp. As I looked out over the lake nestled among the Quartz Mountains, an ominous green sky collided with gray water, adding a feeling of restlessness to my pre-concert jitters. Uniting with my fellow campers, I began the walk across a bridge over tumultuous water toward the performing arts center. Upon our safe arrival, the concert began. With the dramatic opening of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony emerged the group’s collective thought: perseverance.
Throughout the week, we musicians learned the history of the symphony. Composer Dmitri Shostakovich was a man under the constant scrutiny of the Soviet Union; the fifth symphony was a response to the government’s denunciation of his music. The man who carried a toothbrush with him at all times in case he was imprisoned took great risks to express his ideas through the fifth symphony. With this in mine, the concert progressed, the music intensifying; little to the musicians’ knowledge, however, the stormy weather outside was intensifying, as well. Halfway through the second movement, the lights of the performance hall flickered and abruptly went out. After trying in vain to keep playing, the ninety of us soon realized we had to stop the concert. The audience was asked to move down from the rows of seats to the stage in case of a tornado; the complete darkness made it difficult to see. After nearly half an hour, the orchestra was called backstage by our conductor. Ninety musicians gathered round one man holding a flashlight, waiting to hear what would happen next. We whispered among ourselves, praying that the concert would continue. When our conductor had silenced the group, he informed us that he would do whatever it took to complete the performance of the symphony. A simultaneous cheer erupted from backstage, and the audience was soon asked to resume its previous arrangement. As the ensemble reassembled, counselors, instructors, and camp faculty provided the light for us to see by. Cell phones, lanterns, and flashlights were beacons of hope, encouraging us to play onward. The second movement began anew, and the group played onward. After the performance, it was unanimous that it was one of the best the camp had ever heard or- even if just barely- seen.
Music has this power over us; it commits us to the expression of something we cannot otherwise describe. Just as Shostakovich risked his life to express what he believed to be true, we young musicians fought to share what we believed to be true. The unspoken communication of thought and emotion was powerful enough to turn a group of ninety high school musicians into a solidified force, brimming with desire to share its message of perseverance. Yes, I, we believe in the power of music.
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