This weekend at U of Alabama Huntsville there was to have been a two-day symposium built around my second piano trio, ZONES. (The piece would be performed on Friday evening, paired with the Ravel Trio in a concert by Trio Appassionato.) But Friday afternoon, just as I was driving in from the airport, came the terrible murders on campus, shocking the city to its core.
I was emotionally dumbstruck by this tragedy – and the campus was closed after an hour-long lockdown.
What to do? … Concert organizer Dr. Royce Boyer and the performers decided to hold a truncated concert at a local church. I agreed to participate if it were possible for me to speak with the audience first – and to add a ‘musical offering’ to open the program, music very different from the dramatic works already scheduled.
After a rushed run-through of my five-minute Serenade with violinist Marta Szlubowska, I spoke to the audience about how the University’s fabric of cordiality had been so horribly torn apart four hours earlier, and how wrenching it was for us to compose ourselves to play that night — but also how key it is for a creative artist to take on one of our most essential roles, that of providing the emotional documents through which societies register moments of shared high emotion. And that such ‘emotional documents’ can — in addition to providing an outlet for extreme feeling — begin the communal process of regaining balance. What the University community needed, I believed, was a way to express great sadness and yet get beyond the shock by entering a ‘zone of serenity’ as a step towards understanding and acceptance.
Serenade turned out to be essential to this evening on this day. Over and over at the reception people spoke of how helpful this music was (and the words), and how powerful the piece was to them, hearing it at this moment. While they admired and responded to the trios, what they talked about as essential was Serenade.
It’s Sunday morning, and I’m back home - still in shock about the campus shootings, and the well of out-of-control emotion that prompted them. I will not write any music today.