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Classical 101

Classical Music: Made for Mourning?

Whether or not you care to look it straight in the face, I bet you're waiting in solemn anticipation for the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks. Sept. 11 will be a long, hard day for many this year. And the gravity of the events that unfolded on that date in 2001 deserves, for a litany of reasons, never to be forgotten. Forgive me, but I couldn't forget that day if I tried. And I know this because for a while I sort of half-heartedly did try. I tried to skip over the endless news coverage showing plumes of smoke snaking over Manhattan, showing people frantically shoving fliers of missing loved-ones' photos before any eyes or camera lenses that would give them a glimpse. Yes, for a little while, I really tried to pretend that this whole horrible thing would work itself out. Of course, even then I knew I wasn't kidding anyone. Ten years later, Sept. 11, 2001 is as vividly scorched into my memory as though it happened yesterday. I remember the crystal blue sky, the cotton-candy clouds, the late-summer warmth. I remember what I wore that day (haven't worn those clothes since), what I had for lunch, who I happened to speak with and what they and I said. I remember taking in the horrifying details one by one through the day and going home to lie in a fetal position on my living room sofa, trying not to believe the surreal images of Manhattan, Washington, D.C. and rural Pennsylvania beaming through my t.v. screen. And yes, after the devastation there were the ubiquitous performances of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings and other appropriately somber works of classical music that brought us (or at least large groups of us) together to weep through this thing in the solidarity of our shared humanity. Classical music is an art form that excels at offering a warm, subdued space for collective (or private, for that matter) mourning. Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette has said, however, that mourning is "the one time it (classical music) has a clear function in our society." As powerful as music can be at times of loss, I'm not sure I agree. What do you think? A postscript, of sorts: in 2004 I visited a friend in New York City and, while there, made the pilgrimage to Ground Zero. Suffice it to say that there are some things people should never have to be strong enough to bear. When we are faced with those things, beauty can help. Yes, beauty soothes, but more importantly, it reminds us that ugliness cannot blot it out. And on that hope we can live.