I was listening to the Pittsburgh Symphony concert from September 11, 2011 in Berlin on YouTube. As the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City, Washington DC and Shanksville PA, this was billed as a dedicated to the victims of the attacks. But I started to wonder, what does it mean to have a concert dedicated to an event? In particular, there was nothing different about this concert then any other concert on the tour, so it is not in the program. And it is not likely that anyone present was directly related to the attacks. So what does it mean to use music as a means of remembrance, particularly if the music was written with no specific meaning?
At the Chatham University concert commemorating the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Pauline Rovkah commented that the reason we have these concerts is that we have no other way to express what we feel. It is not just that the opportunities do not present themselves, but what we feel is beyond our ability to express them in words.
And the music is not just how we express how we feel, but also how remember later what we feel now. When I was listening to Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach Cello Suite No. 1 – Sarabande in New York for the ceremony at the 9/11 WTC memorial, I remember listening him playing another piece. On July 1, 2007, I was deployed in Afghanistan. That day, the news told us that Tuzla Air Base, Bosnia, had been turned over by the American military to the Bosnia-Croatians. Many people in my unit had deployed to serve in the Balkans during those years, and the turnover of Tuzla Air Base represented the success of that effort. And that day I listened to a recording of Yo-Yo Ma playing The Cellist of Sarejevo by David Wilde. Which was in remembrance of darker days of that conflict, of a cellist who remembered his friends by playing his cello during the Siege of Sarejevo. Music as a reminder of sorrow in the past, and the joy of the day that signified that sorrow was past.
We don’t always have words to express how we feel. And the reality is that we sometimes forget what we were feeling in the past as time goes by. But when we want to remember, we can remember the music we used. Yo-Yo Ma playing the Sarabande from Bach Cello Suite #1 in 2011, or Cello Suite #5 from 2002 for the World Trade Center attacks. The Cellist of Sarejevo for those who remember the Balkan war of the 1990s. Or even the trumpet or horn solos from Mahler #5.