Monday, January 26, 2009

Importance of Arts in Sharp Focus

Like many of you, I watched the inauguration of President Barak Obama with a sense of history. As one of my Music Technology classes and I we listened to "The President's Own" Marine Band playing Sousa marches and other music while we watched the parade of dignitaries entering the US Captiol and coming onto the inauguration deck. We heard how they introduced the Vice President of the United States with music that was played for no one else. I was able to teach them about the unique music which is played only for the President of the United States as Flourishes and Fanfares and Hail to the Chief were first played as outgoing president George W. Bush walked onto the inaguration platform, and then, after being sworn into office, 44th President of the United States of America Barak H. Obama they were played again, musically marking the beginning of the next presidency.

Traveling Choir and I stopped dead in our tracks during warmups to listen on the edge of our seats as a new John Williams piece, "Air and Simple Gifts", was "performed" by Itzhak Perlman, (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano) and Anthony McGill (clarinet) . I got goose bumps as I listened and almost was brought to tears by the confluence of history: a new piece by my favorite composer of all time (John Williams) being played live at the US Capitol where I had just been last spring on the WLA Washington DC trip. It made me wonder how long before the inauguration John Williams was commissioned to write the piece.

Then this morning I read this email:

Dear choral community,

Given that we often are looking for ways to promote our programs, I offer this letter to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel about our recent inauguration ceremony. It is a simple and eloquent observation on the importance our society seems to place on the arts by all the vocal and instrumental music, poetry, art and dance used to express the event. The url of the letter is:,0,2573330.story

Steven Szalaj
Music Director
Voices in Harmony
(815) 455-4879

When you read the Orlando Sentiel article (it appears to be a letter to the editor), you will hopefully be struck, as I was, about the widespread use of music and the arts in the inauguration ceremony. The author, Jennifer Erickson of Orlando, hits the nail on the head when she says "imagine Inauguration Day without the arts." I'll add a couple other thoughts to that:
  • imagine worship without music
  • imagine a movie without a soundstrack
  • imagine a lifetime without hearing or making music
I can't. This is just one reason why I teach music: to unlock the mysteries of music for my students. Here are two more:

Music to Your Ears? Music for Your Heart, Too

Music's Affect on Mind, Soul, Nearly Beyond Words

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