Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend at the Phoenix Symphony

Yesterday I took both of my children to the final concert of the family series put on by the Phoenix Symphony. My daughter is doing Suzuki violin and is involved in an incredible Suzuki organization where she attends group classes a couple of times of month through the non-summer months. As part of that, we get access to Phoenix Symphony tickets at a discounted rate. The family series is interesting - it is geared mainly to children (when someone says family they really mean kids - aren't parents part of the family?). The goal of the program is to get children access to classical music early in hopes that their appreciation for music is born and will generate into a lifetime of Phoenix Symphony support.

The Memorial Day weekend performance was the culmination of the season and the theme was, of course, patriotism. We started the concert an audience recitation of the pledge of allegiance and a singing of the National Anthem. Then we heard various marching and patriotic songs (some of which I do not sadly remember) culminating in "Stars and Stripes Forever". During the concert they played the songs for each branch of our armed services and those who served in that branch (or their spouses) stood and were recognized.

So, really this concert was for me a chance for some pretty incredible musicians to recognize the sacrifice born by our military over the life of our country.

And for me, it represents a pretty remarkable link between our artists and our military which reminds of this quote from John Adams:

"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."

And that really in a very messy sort of way has been the history of our country, but let's take a very brief history of war and veterans in America.

Memorial Day was born from probably the biggest tragedy our country faced - our own Civil War - from wikipedia:

"At the end of the Civil War, communities set aside a day to mark the end of the war or as a memorial to those who had died. Some of the places creating an early memorial day include Sharpsburg, Maryland, located near Antietam Battlefield; Charleston, South Carolina; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; Carbondale, Illinois; Columbus, Mississippi; many communities in Vermont; and some two dozen other cities and towns. "

The horrors of the Civil War are difficult to imagine and we are incredibly lucky to have lifted our country from that mess as cleanly as we did. Of course, since then, we have had many, many, many more reasons to remember our fallen soldiers. Two massive, bloody world wars in the twentieth century. Tragic Cold War inspired conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. We are now engaged incredibly complex, expensive and dangerous nation building efforts in the middle east that most of us don't think about very much. The cost of Afghanistan and Iraq are primarily being carried by a small percentage of Americans. Since Vietnam we have jettisoned a military draft, so a much smaller percentage of our population enlists in the military during this war time than in war times past.

My father enlisted in Air Force during the tail end of WWII, participated in some fashion in the Berlin Airlift and was still enlisted during the Korean conflict but didn't see action. He enlisted primarily because he had no other options - nobody would hire him thinking he would just be drafted, so he enlisted. The world has obviously changed.

Now, I barely think of the sacrifices (some of them enormous) being paid by our military families and those who serve in Afghanistan or Iraq. We, as a country, are attempting something enormous and quite possibly impossible. All of our prayers and support should be directed to those families. I'm afraid they are receiving not near enough of it.

But much of what we're doing with our military right now is to build up political institutions in other countries so that the chaos of those countries do not spill into ours like it did on September 11, 2001. But our countries freedoms and institutions are well established. Or are they? I think they are.

But if we want to keep our country great I think we need to return to John Adams quote. We are now at a point in our country where are artists, poets, painters, philosophers, and leaders are required to preserve our democracy. Sounds elitist? Well if you read Seth Godin's blog in our economy we are all artists - artists make a difference, artists give gifts, artists ship.

So, while singing Our National Anthem accompanied by our Phoenix Symphony, I thought about how many hours of practice every single one of those musicians sacrificed to be able to play their instrument.

For my wife's birthday, I bought her a book written by the famous conductor Daniel Barenboim, Music Quickens Time in almost the first page he writes:

"John Locke wrote in his - in many ways - very forward-looking treatise, 'Some thoughts Concerning Education', published in 1692, that 'Musick is thought to have some affinity with dancing, and a good hand upon some instruments is by many people mightily valued. But it wastes so much of a young man's time to gain but a moderate skill in it; and engages often in such odd company, that many think it much better spared: and I have amongst men of parts and business so seldom heard any one commended or esteemed for having an excellency in musick, that amongst all those things that ever came into the list of accomplishments, I think I may give it the last place.'"

He goes on to describe how John Locke is wrong and why music matters. Interesting to note that Barenboim is the founder of The West-Eastern Divan orchestra. From wikipedia:

"The aim of the West-Eastern Divan is to promote understanding between Israelis and Palestinians and pave the way for a peaceful and fair solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Barenboim himself has spoken of the ensemble as follows:

'The Divan is not a love story, and it is not a peace story. It has very flatteringly been described as a project for peace. It isn't. It's not going to bring peace, whether you play well or not so well. The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance. A project against the fact that it is absolutely essential for people to get to know the other, to understand what the other thinks and feels, without necessarily agreeing with it. I'm not trying to convert the Arab members of the Divan to the Israeli point of view, and [I'm] not trying to convince the Israelis to the Arab point of view. But I want to - and unfortunately I am alone in this now that Edward died a few years ago - ...create a platform where the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives.'[3]

One of the young musicians of the orchestra reinforced this point:

'Barenboim is always saying his project is not political. But one of the really great things is that this is a political statement by both sides. It is more important not for people like myself, but for people to see that it is possible to sit down with Arab people and play. The orchestra is a human laboratory that can express to the whole world how to cope with the other.'[4]"

So, on the Memorial Day, we need to memorialize every single man and woman who have died fighting to defend our country. But to truly memorialize our veterans, I think we need to do it in the way we live our lives. To become artists, to make a difference, to ship.

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