Given the state of our nation and the world, I thought it would be appropriate to share a piece that's significant to this day in history as it pertains to music's response to senseless violence. I originally authored "Mozart's Requiem: Consolation In Camelot" on my platform The Chronicles of a Modern-Day Mozartian, but have extended its narrative for inclusion here:
Since his death in 1791, Mozart's music has remained a profound presence in the midst of world events, both tragic and joyous. Today, as we recognize the anniversary of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy and reflect on an era, we find that Mozart's music was there, providing beauty and strength in Camelot's darkest hour. It helped a family, and a nation, say goodbye.
The Kennedy family attended mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston on January 19, 1964 where Mozart's Requiem was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the President's loving memory. It's significant to note that this was the first time in U.S. history that Mozart's Requiem had been celebrated as a liturgy.
In the article, "Return to Camelot: Music of the Kennedy Years," Christopher Purdy writes: "The Mozart Requiem sang and thundered and begged and comforted. The country began healing to Mozart's music during this performance."
"The music was wonderful and beautiful. Mozart's Requiem is not a depressing work, it is graceful and powerful," said Joan Bennett Kennedy.
The President was a champion for the arts and the worldwide music community responded with several tribute performances led by such renowned musicians, composers and conductors as Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein and Issac Stern.
The words offered by Bernstein that November are as relevant today as they were all those years ago. He answers a question I often ponder: As music continues to be a binding fabric of humanity across time, what is our resolve in the face of such unspeakable tragedy? Bernstein's response: "This will be our answer to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."
As an artistic administration apprentice with the Washington National Opera, I was inspired whenever my work for the company took me away from the studio and administrative offices to The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This is where President Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy's legacy for the arts lives on. I'd also like to mention here the fact that the First Lady also played a pivotal role in making historic preservation a consideration in the formulation of national public policy (read more).
The arts were a part of their lives in The White House where they demonstrated a regard for cultural and intellectual excellence. And on this subject, I'd like to share a quote from President Kennedy's speech at Amherst College on October 26, 1963, less than a month before his assassination (See full transcript):
"I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction." (President John F. Kennedy)
The Schiller Institute presented Mozart's Requiem in 2014 on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Solemn High Requiem Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Watch and learn more via the organization's multimedia account of this special performance, including an official program offering words from the only surviving 1964 soloist, Mr. Nicholas Di Virgilio (tenor).
My wish is that our nation's leaders will embrace the passion and great esteem in which President Kennedy held the arts as a profession and as a powerful vehicle for personal and community enrichment, cultural diplomacy and economic prosperity. I believe that a life in service to the arts is a life in service to others. Arts professionals should be valued and their work justly rewarded.
Instead, we relegate them to a system of chance and charity that devalues, exploits and compromises not only their livelihood, but their work. This was reality for Mozart and most figures we've come to revere posthumously. Instead of developing a professionhood with ample resources and compensation, we allow our best and brightest to slip into precarity. The "hobbyist" and "starving artist" stigmas prevail because society has long relinquished its responsibility to the arts as frivolous activities to be inadequately funded by the intermittent spare change of public funds and the affluent.
On behalf of my particular sector, I must ask: Do we think so little of our music history and heritage? Do we think so little of the guardians who seek to preserve and protect it? I consider the purpose of my work to be greater than any one era, genre or artist. It is to inspire change in society's way of thinking about the arts, so that we can do what's necessary to right the trajectory of one of our greatest cultural failings towards a brighter future. It's not too late for us to be a country "which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft."
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