Orientation….Day 10

I’m sure that everyone, right along with me, will be relieved when  I complete my class on Music and Social Justice.  Then I will be able to think about and write about something else, like my impending travel to Spain. 

But right now, I am still living closely with injustice and the music it generates.  And today, after an evening of listening to the most beautiful and yet agonizing music created by people struggling to live in perhaps the most unlivable conditions, I seem to be able to think of only one thing:  orientation.

Maybe I don’t really mean orientation, perhaps I mean perspective, but the word perspective just doesn’t seem complete enough to me.  The concept first entered our discussion when we talked about spirituals, which grew out of the experience and the necessities of the victims as compared to the abolitionist hymns, which grew out of the empathy and compassion of those who wanted to help the victims — an outside-in orientation, versus the inside-out perspective of the slaves themselves.

The difference between, and the value of, these two different perspectives was never so gripping for me as yesterday evening, as we first watched the documentary The Journey of the Butterfly, in which we saw and heard the bright faces and voices of the American Boy Choir as they presented this work, created from the words of children in Terezin, and sang text such as: 

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone…
Such, such a yellow Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world goodbye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
In the ghetto.

— “The Butterfly” by Pavel Friedmann

These boys, born decades after the  horrible events at Terezin, will, by the grace of God, never experience such horror in their own lives.  But by the act of singing this music, its memory will forever be imprinted on them and in them.   Their orientation towards live was, most assuredly, changed for ever by that act.  

Here is my point:  the music, well at least the poetry, grew from the inside-out orientation.   The PERFORMANCE, however, was from the outside-in orientation.  And now the circuit is complete. 

The circuit between the cry of the victim and the power of empathy and action can be completed in two ways, I think:  by the act of performance, and by the act of witnessing (listening/viewing) that performance.  Clearly, I have more thinking to do about this, but somehow it seems related to my own overwhelming questions about why perform at all and what should one perform.  But today,  I only have questions.  Oh well.

I have appreciated greatly, however, our teacher’s attempt to end each class session with a moment of peace after hours of examining some of the hardest periods that our human history has to offer us (otherwise I would have been without sleep all week long, and I do have a presentation to finish).  And last night, that gift was a chance to honor the lives lost with a Yom Hashoa service.   And in an attempt to remember that peace, I leave you today with the words of the El Malei Rahamim, the prayer for the souls of the dead with which we ended the service:

For the prayer that ascends on high, AMEN
Every living soul will praise Your name, AMEN
Bless us with peace and watch over our homes
Bring us closer to the dream that is within us
Always bless the work of our hands
Open our hearts that we will always sing to You.

O my God, AMEN
For my hope, AMEN
Wrap up with Your love, AMEN

Give us life and watch over us
Fulfill the dream that is within us
Give us blessing, illuminate our faces
Open our hearts that we will always sing to you.

Forever, AMEN
For everyone, AMEN
Give strength to the spirit within us, AMEN
For our prayer, AMEN
For peace, AMEN
Every living soul will praise Your name, AMEN

 Amen.  May your find peace this day.

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