In the light of recent events in Paris, Lebanon, Syria, Mali, and too many other places, I can’t help but be thankful this week for the foundation that the arts have given me for coping in a world full of fear and sorrow. I am thankful that men and women, artists much smarter and more talented than I, from every land and every age, have left behind the tools and instructions for how to live for the light in a world that seems covered in darkness.
As an artist my initial impulse after the Paris attacks was to reflect on a concert that I performed a short walk from the Bataclan theatre, one of the best experiences of my life. I wished that I could go there and make it all better again. I wanted to stand up and throw some small measure of beauty in the face of all that violence. I wanted to wear the Jullien peace symbol and sing with Davide Martello at the site of the attacks, to carry the torch of humanity and say that no measure darkness will ever extinguish the City of Light.
I am thankful that I have been gifted the capacity to help others deal with their grief. My own art is singing and I am often called upon to sing when every fiber of my being wants to cry at the pain and suffering that I and others are feeling. Fighting back my own tears to sing at memorial services or funerals is the most challenging and the most rewarding part of being a musician. It is in those moments that I feel most necessary, that what I do is the most important thing in the world. I’ve been tasked with singing everything that can’t be said and providing an outlet for everyone else in the room to express and understand what they are feeling.
But music’s role, art’s role in this world is so much bigger than that. Art can heal wounds, but it is so much more than a band-aid. Art can bring people together, but it is so much more than an ice cream social. Art is the collective wisdom of generations, the thing that ties us to our past and our future. Art is the common language spoken by humans since the paintings in the caves at Lascaux and probably before that. It is the key to understanding, to empathy across borders and across religions, and is one of the best tools to dealing with the challenges of our time.
Responding to one of the biggest challenges of his own time, the assassination of President Kennedy, Leonard Bernstein spoke about the role of the musician in times of violence: “We musicians, like everyone else, are numb with sorrow at this murder, and with rage at the senselessness of the crime. But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art. Our music will never again be quite the same. This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
As I transition into the managerial side of the arts world, I am compelled to find ways to inflame the art of others and pass the torch of humanity to as many people as possible. I know that this involves building bridges between cultures through artistic collaboration. It involves educating the public and introducing them to the widest variety of cultures. It involves showing the aspects of people and cultures that we don’t see on the news. This Thanksgiving, even as I weep for the empty chairs at dinner tables all around the world and rage at those that would seek to extinguish the flame of humanity, I am thankful that what I do has never been more important: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.
Written by EALS Finance Coordinator David Travis