9/11 And the Power of Music
The large amount of media coverage of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy got me thinking lately about the different ways we grieve, both individually and as a nation. Certainly the media has used startling photographic images, some of them being well-known to us by now. But a closer look (and listen) reveals another means, just as powerful, if not more, than these photos and videos. Have you ever noticed that much of the images and videos we watch on TV are accompanied by music? Music has a power that I’m not sure many people realize. This fact was brought home more clearly to me by the article in the September 11 Des Moines Register titled “Beyond Words: The Soundtrack of 9/11.” In it, writer Michael Morain recounts the many ways Americans have chosen to remember this date. Mr. Morain tells about a concert given at the Twin Towers site by opera star Renee Fleming a few weeks after the attacks. Ms. Fleming said it was the most difficult concert she had ever sung, being unable to look into the faces of the victims’ families. Morain said even though the words of Fleming’s “Amazing Grace” washed over the audience, it was the familiar tune that really hit home. This is when we sometimes realize that words can only do so much. We became buried beneath an avalanche of 9/11 words – in books, articles and media coverage. Morain theorizes that that is why so many concerts have been scheduled during this time. Music has a way to touch us and even heal us in a way that words alone cannot. In more rare cases, even the absence of music adds to an experience. One of the reasons Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds” is so eerie is because there is no music in it whatsoever. Classical music is written off as being only enjoyable by a certain niche of people. However, when one considers the film and advertising industries, classical music is quite pervasive in American culture.
“One of the really wonderful things about music is that it allows individuals and groups of people to go to places that are beyond what words can make possible,” said Jesse Rosen, president of the League of American Orchestras. Orchestras are not engaged in asking questions like “what does this mean for America?” “How do we keep this from ever happening again?” Its listeners bring their own experiences to the concert and take from it whatever they will. In this way, concerts become a very individualized listening experience. Parts of the aforementioned Renee Fleming concert were made into a documentary titled “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero”. At the end of the film, two people are shown holding hands as they jump from one of the towers on that fateful day. As they fall, the documentary plays strains of Schubert’s String Quartet under the narrator’s voice. This moment, as with many other events, are made more poignant and eternal with the addition of music.
Previews of “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero” are available on YouTube. The documentary, produced by Helen Whitney, can be purchased through Amazon.com.