Knox-Galesburg Symphony concerts regularly start with the Star-Spangled Banner. Saturday night, after the terrorist attacks on Paris shocked the world, Maestro Polay asked for a moment of silence to reflect on the situation. My heart cried, "Play La Marseillaise! Play it!" (And Rick nodded his sober permission.)
Here's how that conversation played out at intermission.
ME: I wanted to shout, "Play La Marseillaise! Play it!" ... You don't know what I'm talking about, do you.
NIECE & FIANCE: Um.
ME: Have you seen Casablanca?
ME: Okay. Well, you should. But here's the scene. We're in Rick's Café and the Germans are at Sam's piano.
N&F: *polite incomprehension*
ME: *backpedaling* Okay. *growly Bogart voice* "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world ..."
N&F: *recognition dawns*
ME: That's Rick's Café, the current gin joint. "Play it again, Sam"? - that's Sam's piano. The Nazis have occupied France, and the French are putting up with it. So we have Germans at Sam's piano, singing a stirring German song about the Vaterland. Victor Laszlo, who is a very famous agitator for the Resistance, goes over to the band and says, "Play La Marseillaise!" - the French national anthem. *sings opening bars*
N&F: Oh! Yes!
ME: The French people in the bar get caught up in it and it's a very moving and emotional scene that's pivotal to the movie.
“Emotions are one of the most fascinating features of the human mind. Music is an equally extraordinary characteristic. Understanding the special interaction between the two may take us closer to understanding the fundamental nature of both. ” ~ The Sync Project, Music and Emotion, July 2015
What's beautiful about Casablanca, besides Ingrid Bergman (and the famous Beautiful Friendship), is that it uses music to stir emotions - and then directs our emotions to the broader political/humanitarian context. We are simultaneously caught up in personal and societal considerations, our conscience activated in both cases by music.
The music of Dracula, the Ballet - which I attended for the fourth time last weekend - does something similar. Sinister, creepy passages from Schnittke make the listener uncomfortable, anxious, and sympathetic, while Arvo Pärt speaks of longing, despair, and finality - all magnified by the dance. We feel the conflict between love and horror - the personal and the societal - and in feeling, we gain both compassion and a higher purpose.
Three weeks ago I attended a concert by the combined Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Edwardsville orchestras. Obviously I'm behind in my concert reviews, but this one gave me a new perspective because of the students who were seated behind me. They were attending the concert for class credit in music history, and comparing notes on what they wanted to say in their reports. At intermission the young man, who was more confident due to some high school band experience, described what he got from the first half. His classmate asked, "You mean I can write about how it made me feel?"
Oh, honey, I thought. What else is there?