Both music and bullets deal with tragedy

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

One of Boston's most powerful responses to the terrorists who shattered its civility last Monday was a spontaneous act of music. The other powerful response was a fusillade of bullets.

Civilization, for now, requires both.

Pittsburgh responded with music, too -- accidentally, but perhaps providentially -- in Saturday night's launch of a long-planned week of concerts that invoke music's power to unite us across our religious, ethnic and national divides.

But as thousands of us entered the University of Pittsburgh arena, our bags and purses were examined at unusually well-staffed entrances.

Because, as the week's events remind us, some people -- not many, but enough -- prefer bullets to Beethoven, jihad to joining their voices in song. We can't afford to forget that sad reality, no matter how hopefully we sing.

At the Boston Garden on Wednesday night, the singing was reassuring, maybe defiant. Two days after the murderous bombings of the Boston Marathon, more than 17,000 hockey fans joined in on "The Star-Spangled Banner" when longtime anthem soloist Rene Rancourt turned his microphone toward them at "What so proudly we hailed."

Hats were doffed, eyes grew moist and thousands of voices resonated like thunder in the enclosed space. It was the most electrifying anthem ever. The moment was "Boston Strong."

So were the moments Friday when, after a four-day manhunt, one of the marathon bombing suspects died in a gun battle with police and the other was captured alive hours later in another firefight. Defiant singing gave way to celebration.

Although Monday was "Patriots Day" in Massachusetts, Friday was the real anniversary: It was on the 19th of April, 238 years ago, that Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride and colonists at Lexington and Concord stood up to British troops that had marched from Boston to seize the budding revolutionaries' arms and ammunition.

The colonists sought freedom from Britain's tyranny. Today their descendants seek to prevent the establishment of a new tyranny.

No foreign power has to take over our government for our lives to be tyrannized by terrorists' reign of fear. Just ask the people of Boston and Watertown who couldn't leave their houses for days.

Just ask the people of Israel or Syria who live in such conditions for months, or years, or a lifetime.

In Pittsburgh, at a safe remove from Boston's traumatic week, the daily routine seemed muted and fraught. On Saturday, when a deli clerk called out a third-period update of the Bruins-Penguins hockey game the usual cheer did not go up for our stellar team's lead. People just nodded.

Under the circumstances it would have been bizarre to care much about winning.

And a few hours later, thousands of us took our seats in the Petersen Events Center for the opening night of the "Music for the Spirit Festival." The weeklong series of concerts will celebrate what "we share in common," said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, native son and former bishop of Pittsburgh, "beginning with the fact that we're all loved by God and made in His image."

The musical works performed by the orchestra and the 2,000-voice regional choir, and the spiritual readings by representatives of the "Abrahamic" religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- as well as Buddhism, all celebrated what Cardinal Wuerl called "the spark of the divine within us." The kindness and compassion and goodwill we all cherish and aspire to.

The music provided some measure of solace -- or, for me, outright transcendence in Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony -- but a different, unsettled feeling bubbled up in "This Is My Song." It's an American poem of 1934 set to Jean Sibelius's glorious "Finlandia" melody that we all sang together.

"This is my home, the country where my heart is. ... But other hearts in other lands are beating/With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

"My country's skies are bluer than the ocean ...

"But ... skies are everywhere as blue as mine."

What if, under blue skies elsewhere or right here at home, there are those whose hearts are beating with hopes that are not true or high? Hopes of seeing their religion or nation obliterate mine?

Now, as throughout history, there are some who believe their god calls them to kill those whose god and prophets are not identical.

There's an unsettling but unavoidable difference between what we hold as private sentiment and what works as public policy -- the distance between Bostonians' fervent anthem-singing and its police officers' bullets. Until an overwhelming majority of earth's inhabitants agree, or agree to disagree, the bullets are the tragic necessity to ensure our freedom to sing.


Ruth Ann Dailey:


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?