(Trigger Warning: NSFW, depictions of violence below)
I haven’t written here for a long time. My dissertation has taken a great toll, both on my time, and my life. However, I do not, and cannot live in a vacuum. Facebook and twitter are rife with news reports and angry updates from friends and family over the events happening in this country. The country of checks and balances is going too long unchecked, and unbalanced.
Flint, Michigan literally does not have water to drink, and no one is going to jail. Black children are dying, and it seems as if no one can really be bothered. Gay and trans people are still attacked in the streets. People are voting for the most awful thing to come out of the conservative element since McCarthyism. Women still suffer mightily at the hands of politicians with penises, dictating and legislating against our health and well-being.
Every time something bad happens, this quote is published all over my facebook feed: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” Leonard Bernstein wrote this. Most people don’t even know the context of this quote. Bernstein was writing about the death of John F. Kennedy, and his decision to conduct Mahler’s 2nd Symphony (Resurrection) in response to this death that shook the country.
It is a simple and eloquent quote. Even taken out of context, it holds its meaning.
We aren’t shaken by violence anymore. Most of us just shake our heads, saddened and dismayed. “So sad,” we say. “Those poor people,” we utter to each other, over our stands, over our scores, over the instruments we are making our beautiful, devoted music with. The other day, I sat in a rehearsal and someone said, “I hope someday someone will see reason, and change something.” I suddenly remembered the rest of the letter. Before the famous quote, Bernstein said this:
He was to have said [Kennedy]: ‘America’s leadership must be guided by learning and reason.’ Learning and reason: precisely the two elements that were necessarily missing from the mind of anyone who could have fired that impossible bullet. Learning and reason: the two basic precepts of all Judaistic tradition, the twin sources from which every Jewish mind from Abraham and Moses to Freud and Einstein has drawn its living power. Learning and Reason: the motto we here tonight must continue to uphold with redoubled tenacity, and must continue, at any price, to make the basis of all our actions.
Reason should triumph. Learning and reason should be the very basis of what we do as a society. But we should be doing it as beautifully, and devotedly as possible.
Well I’m done being devotedly beautiful. Aren’t you angry yet? Is anyone listening anymore? I feel like making beautiful music is now an apathetic reaction. Let us make paintings with the piss water of Flint Michigan and the oil still washing up on the shores of Louisiana. Let us make macaroni art of the plan-B pills and birth control that are not promised in health care controlled by Hobby Lobby and catholic hospitals. Let’s make music that is written in the blood of the fallen children in every shooting since Columbine. Write plays and operas depicting the crimes of the NRA and the military machine.
When they burn our books, our art, our music, will we be standing there, playing beautifully while the ship sinks? Why aren’t we asking the hard questions? Where is the angry, violent, maddening threnody for the victims of police violence? Where is the dirge for the children of Afghanistan? How about the fanfare for the common college student who will never pay off their debt?
When will the artists rise up?
I plan on picking up my bassoon, the only real weapon, the only real voice I have, and swinging hard. Swinging for the injustice of the women around me, who do not receive adequate health care or equal pay. For the boys who go to fight a war we should not have fought, and come home broken or dead. For the people who die because someone in congress couldn’t stand up for what a human being should actually believe in: reason, learning, or decency.
Let’s get angry. Write a revolution.