WDAV Blog

Defiant Requiem: We Sing What We Cannot Say

By John Cox

As a Holocaust historian and educator, I am often asked, “Why did no one resist?” Fortunately, there was considerable resistance, from many quarters and in many forms. This becomes more visible when we break free from narrow definitions of “resistance” —that is, the notion that only armed struggle qualifies as resistance.

The Nazis used their infamous camp Theresienstadt (also known as Terezín), forty miles north of Prague, as a “model” camp that they claimed was humane, a ruse that some outsiders accepted. As part of this charade, the Nazis transported large numbers of artists and musicians to the camp.

In 1941 Rafael Schächter, a young Czech conductor, was arrested and sent to Terezín. He managed to recruit 150 prisoners and teach them Verdi’s Requiem under near-impossible conditions: learning by rote in a dank cellar using a single score, and holding semi-clandestine rehearsals after long days of forced labor. They performed the piece on sixteen occasions for fellow prisoners—the final time, in June 1944, before an audience of SS officers from Berlin and officials of the International Red Cross.

Schachter collaborated with the famed pianist and composer Gideon Klein, among others. Klein would also perish during the Holocaust.

Murry Sidlin came upon this story by chance browsing through a book in a Minneapolis bookstore. Sidlin alighted upon a brief reference to the Requiem performances in Theresienstadt and began to question the possibility of such a performance given the circumstances.

Sidlin, whose paternal grandmother and her family were killed in a Latvian ghetto, began to decode the connection between their resistance and the Verdi text. He contacted survivors, as the Defiant Requiem Foundation’s site explains, and the story began to unfold:

“I could see that almost every line of the Mass could have a different meaning as a prisoner,” detected Sidlin. ‘Deliver me O Lord’ for them meant liberation. Nothing remaining unavenged was certainty of punishment for their captors….”

When Sidlin interviewed the survivors, his intuition was confirmed about why they were drawn to the work:

“Schächter told his chorus: ‘We can sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them’—that was the essence, that was the message behind the Verdi.”

UNC Charlotte’s School of Music and the university’s Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Studies will host two events that highlight this striking and powerful form of defiance to Nazism.

On November 16, the School of Music and the Holocaust-studies center will show a documentary film, Defiant Requiem, at UNCC’s Center City location. The 80-minute film employs testimony provided by surviving members of Schächter’s choir. The film explores the singers’ view of the Verdi as a work of defiance and resistance against the Nazis.

Susan Cernyak-Spatz, who survived Theresienstadt as well as Auschwitz, and knew artists in Theresienstadt, will speak at the November 16th event. More than once in the last year, Susan has expressed her concern over the rise of nationalism and fascism, which “remind [her] of things [she] saw in Berlin and Vienna” in her youth.

Members of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, Prague Philharmonic Choir, and the Kühn Choir of Prague take stage for June 2013 performance of the Defiant Requiem in Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral. Photo credit: Josef Rabara

The second event will be a concert entitled, “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezín.” Conductor Murry Sidlin created the concert/drama to tell the story of the Requiem at Terezín. This multi-media production will be performed on December 3rd at UNCC’s Robinson Hall.

In creating the concert Sidlin has said, “my own objectives were simple: I am attempting to give Schächter the career he was prevented from having; and I want everyone who learns of the commitment to the ‘high ground’ taken by the conductor and chorus to associate them always with the Verdi score.”

For more information about the performances mentioned visit, Defiant Requiem November 16th film-showing and the Defiant Requiem December 3rd concert.

John Cox is associate professor of Global Studies at UNC-Charlotte, where he directs the Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Studies.

WDAV Spotlights Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. Throughout the month, WDAV highlighted classical musicians with disabilities who have left an indelible mark on the arts.

In addition to this on-air focus, we partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. We also turned to the community to discover what role music might play in serving individuals living with disabilities. We spoke with Meg Johnson, Music Therapy Clinical Coordinator for the Queens University of Charlotte, who provided insights into her use of music therapy.

Read full article on wdav.org

Terrifying Films, Terrific Music

By Hannah Lieberman

Think about your favorite scene in a scary movie. What is it that makes you cringe? Maybe it’s the notorious “dun-dun” of Jaws, or the cutting strings in Psycho. Music has a unique ability to heighten the tension in horror films and make audiences jump. The right soundtrack can even turn beloved family flicks into horrifying movies, as one editor did with Mrs. Doubtfire.

Pianist Ethan Uslan, known for his ragtime remixes of classical pieces, has experience in accompanying films of various genres, including some that might be on your Halloween playlist. We asked him a few questions about his experiences:

What goes into preparing for this type of performance? Do you have a score or are you improvising?

For most comedy films, I just wing it. I have lots of happy marches and ragtime pieces in my repertoire that fit well with slapstick action and a “funny” feel. I also have love music, sad music, danger music, etc, ready to go.  I often improvise and play with harmonies and tempos and volume and different registers of the piano and make stuff up on the fly.

Sometimes I make up little melodies but usually I use existing pieces in my repertoire (although I still improvise with tempos, volumes, etc). An example of existing music that I use: “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” makes a great love theme and Grieg’s Triumphant March works great when the hero vanquishes the villain.

For dramas or horror movies, it does not work to play lots of bouncy ragtime, so I prepare by seeing the movie in advance and compiling a little score filled with existing music (and lots of improvising in between).

The existing music can be classical (I played a lot of Handel in The Black Pirate and I like to play the Mendelssohn’s Gondola Song during the underground gondola in scene of Phantom of the Opera) or I use photoplay music, which was movie mood music published in the 1910s and 1920s just for the purpose of silent films.

Pieces would be called “Agitato #32” or “Love Theme #6” and you can use the in any movie at an appropriate scene.  Sometimes I use these and they work great.

What’s most exciting for you about playing music along with a silent film?

When the crowd gets into it they boo the bad guy and cheer the good guy and the room becomes electric.

What addition do you think live music brings to a viewer’s experience of a film?

Live music makes the event more exciting, and when everything is going right the performer feeds off the crowd.

Can you share an experience of the best feedback you’ve gotten about a gig accompanying a silent film?

After the film people have said nice things to me about the performance but honestly for me the best feedback is to hear audience reaction during the film – that shows me they are engaged and that’s the highest compliment I can receive.

Want to learn/hear some more on silent film music? Check out Episode #9 of Ethan’s podcast “The Carolina Shout,” entitled Don’t Open That Door!!

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Hannah Lieberman is a senior at Davidson College where she studies Political Science and Theatre. She loves her work at WDAV, where you can hear her live on Sunday mornings.

Music and Madness

By Nancy Pruett

Cultural stereotypes surrounding disabled figures run rampant through media and society, and opera is no exception. The ‘cure or kill’ paradigm is an unfortunate example of humanity’s inherent discomfort with difference.

The term ‘cure or kill’ was coined by Rosemarie Garland Thomson to describe the two most common paths presented to disabled characters in literature, art, music and media. Disabled characters are either cured of their disability, thereby allowing them to enter the normate (able bodied) group, or are killed, thereby curing society of disability and easing the tension in normates’ lives presented by disability.

Specifically, madness is a trope often used in opera to signify a break in a character’s story that is either corrected or leads to the character’s downfall.

In Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (1925), the title character is driven mad and commits suicide as a result. Giovanni Paisiello’s Nina (1789) features a woman who loses her senses at the supposed death of her lover, but regains her faculties immediately following his safe return.

In Handel’s Orlando (1733), the title character is driven mad with jealousy when his love marries another and this madness is the cause of most of the drama in the opera. Only after his mind is magically restored does the opera end in happiness for all characters.

These characters are not presented as capable of living with their mental illnesses and must be cured and brought back into the world of normalcy, or their disease must be eradicated and they with it.

These stigmatized portrayals of disabled characters infiltrate not only the way we as individuals view the very real, three dimensional disabled persons we interact with, but the way that we as a collective society believe they should be handled.

The ‘cure or kill’ paradigm in opera displays the roots of many stereotypes that continue to be prevalent today. The rock musical Next to Normal (2008) takes a close look at the effects of Diana’s struggle with manic depression on her family. Most of the show is spent presenting the interruptions to the lives of Diana’s normate family while trying to find a cure for her, and though Diana is neither cured nor killed, she leaves in the end for the good of her family.

In the clip below, Diana attempts to explain her feelings to her distressed husband while hallucinating the intervention of her dead son.

This recent work illustrates the way music has evolved, but media interpretations of disabled lives have not. Even the title demonstrates intense discomfort at the presence of difference in the lives of the characters and a desire achieve a state of normalcy, and the final moments of the show place much higher value on repairing the lives of normates than its disabled protagonist.

Stereotypes such as this encourage a societal hierarchy in which persons with disabilities are relegated to lower rungs and must therefore work that much harder to be viewed as equal citizens of a normate world.

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Nancy Pruett is a senior at Davidson College

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. WDAV partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. This post is a part of that series. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts focusing on different artist.

 

 

OCD and Repetition in Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8

By Bayne Brannen

Disability Studies scholars consider how a cognitive disability may have affected a composer’s work just as they may study how a physical disability affects a performer. Music theorist and Disability Studies scholar Joseph Straus has written about how disability presents itself as abnormalities at the level of pitch relationships in music that resolve themselves to something more conventional. However, the music of Anton Bruckner provides another way to think about music and disability.

H.F. Redlich’s Bruckner and Mahler documents Bruckner’s compulsion to count relatively arbitrary objects and repeat certain phrases several times for no reason. While these behaviors may seem harmless, his disorder eventually led to a three-month stay in a sanitarium where he recovered enough to continue his work.

Some posit that Bruckner’s disorder had a distinct effect on his music. Julian Horton, in Bruckner’s Symphonies, describes the composer’s routine of counting the measures of his compositions and organizing them into different “numerical groups.” Additionally, Redlich ascribes the composer’s frenetic recurrence of short motives in his work to his disorder. Essentially, the regularity of Bruckner’s music constitutes its irregularity. A great example of this repetition lies in the scherzo of his Symphony No. 8:

Clearly this piece contains a highly repetitive motive. But repetition occurs in music beyond the symphonic repertoire of the nineteenth century. Just take a listen to this disco hit from the seventies:

So what can we make of this? Simply because the composers of “Get Up and Boogie” utilized repetition may not mean they have obsessive-compulsive disorder. While the repetition of both Symphony No. 8 and “Get Up and Boogie” were probably incorporated for entirely different reasons, we could have a similar response when listening to either—whether that be a response of interest or boredom. In the end, our reactions are what constitute the experience of the music rather than the known intentions or habits of the composer.

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Bayne Brannen is a senior at Davidson College

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. WDAV partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. This post is a part of that series. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts focusing on different artist.

Django Reinhardt: Accommodating Ingenuity

By Ellis Coan

In 1928 French guitarist Django Reinhardt suffered severe burns during a fire, resulting in the loss of function in two of his left fingers. Consequently, he devised new techniques and idiosyncrasies that allowed him to continue playing.

A confluence of factors, the foremost being his own commitment and talent, led to Reinhardt’s continuation as a musical performer. But Reinhardt’s preference for jazz over classical music also played a role in his success. As classical guitarists require extensive use of the ring finger, Reinhardt would have faced greater obstacles had he not been a jazz artist.

The existing classical repertoire did no favors for Reinhardt. According to jazz scholar Benjamin Givan, Reinhardt’s impairment prevented him “playing chords which require considerable wrist supination” and “precludes many fingerings which are merely run-of-the-mill for non-disabled guitarists.” Classical music and its strict adherence to prescribed fingerings, chord voicing, and other technical aspects would have been unfeasible.

Jazz, however, was far more accommodating of Reinhardt’s impairment both in terms of technique and repertoire.

Alex Lubet explains Reinhardt’s achievement in Music, Disability, and Society:

“The interpretive latitudes of jazz – to arrange, improvise, and compose one’s one parts – enabled a technical and stylistic transformation that gave Reinhardt access to the entire repertoire, played in his unique and idiosyncratic style.”

Limited in playing close intervals, Reinhardt would instead employ alternate chord voicings that could result in unique sonorities. Rapid runs up the guitar neck, often associated with Reinhardt, were likely resultant from his difficulty with shifting strings.

These idiosyncrasies, among others, borne from Reinhardt’s disability help form his distinctive style. Reinhardt’s success in jazz exposes the extent to which disability in music is constructed. Instead of framing his success as solely an individual feat we should hone in on the factors that necessitated Reinhardt’s invention and how they may influence or limit other disabled persons.

A Little Love, A Little Kiss by Django Reinhardt:

A Little Love, A Little Kiss (Original) by Eddie Lang:

Featured Above: Two versions of the same song, “A Little Love, A Little Kiss.” The first performed by Reinhardt, the second by Eddie Lang. Note the two different uses of chords — Reinhardt’s consists of two notes, spanning large intervals, while Lang uses many notes and close intervals.
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Ellis Coan is a senior at Davidson College.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. WDAV partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. This post is a part of that series. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts focusing on different artist.

Deafness: Rethinking Music

By Austin Bowley

Despite the common belief that experiencing music is a privilege only for people with fully functioning hearing faculties, we use more than just our ears in the musical experience. We dance; we feel the beat within us. In my voice lessons at Davidson, I am told repeatedly to let my body convey the meaning and stop worrying about the sound I produce!

Furthermore, we have examples of deaf and hard of hearing (DHOH) musicians throughout history and the present. Beethoven composed with a hearing impairment that worsened through his life, and Evelyn Glennie is a well-known and highly successful contemporary Deaf percussionist.

These examples demonstrate that the DHOH community does not have to be excluded from experiencing music or being musical. So how, then, do DHOH people experience music and become musicians? It turns out that in order to become a musician, whether someone is DHOH or not, practice is key.

Music educator Robert Fulford, in “The Formation and Development of Musical Identities with a Hearing Impairment,” shows that as opposed to learning by sound, DHOH pupils may learn note names through visual puzzles or pictures, pitches by feeling the speeds of vibrations, or musical technique through metaphors such as tone color.

Pulling evidence from his interviews with DHOH musicians, Fulford comments on the power of visual cues and gestures to learn, for instance, how long to hold a particular note on a violin or find the beat from a conductor.

While the DHOH community continues to find ways to participate in music, their inclusion demands that we revisit the definition of music. Does music require sound?

Apparently so, at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which includes “sound” as a central part of its definition of “music,” but a Deaf musician like Evelyn Glennie complicates the dictionary definition.

Perhaps a more inclusive definition should focus on physical vibrations, emotions, and the abstract form of music instead of the sound produced.

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Austin Bowley is a senior at Davidson College.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. WDAV partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. This post is a part of that series. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts focusing on different artist.

La Mer and Depression

By Hannah Thigpen

Claude Debussy wanted to be a sailor. He was only a few years from his compositional triumphs when he wrote, “I have been smitten not with sea-sickness, but with sea-seeing-sickness.” I see connections between the symptoms of depression as an expression of this disability in the complex composition that is Debussy’s La Mer.

The third sketch of La Mer is entitled Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea, and it is rife with upheaval. Dialogue is more ominous and aggressive in comparison to the first two sketches. From the relentless timpani to the sharply articulated bursts of rhythmic density, this sketch conveys fitful unrest.

Listen to the third sketch from a performance of La Mer by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra:

The “call of the deep” theme from Dialogue evokes in its cyclic, rumbling quality the depressive symptoms enumerated by The National Institute of Mental Health: persistent sad or empty mood, feelings of hopelessness, irritability, and feelings of worthlessness.

La Mer became one of the few Debussy compositions to deal so personally in despair, expressed in the undertow of the sea. The agitation in the strings especially speaks to irritability. Cycling themes reinforce feeling lost or hopeless. Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea contains immense, conflicting forces within itself. Depression, in parallel, dwells as conflict contained within people.

By applying the disability studies framework to La Mer, I seek not to deal in certainty or posthumously diagnose the man behind the work; furthermore, the medical model of depression is only one lens through which to view human disability.

The sea unleashed in La Mer reveals more than nature. Art, and Debussy’s La Mer in this case, complements and expands our medical understanding of depression through sound, sensation, and metaphor.

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Hannah Thigpen is a senior at Davidson College.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the U.S., established more than 70 years ago to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. WDAV partnered with Davidson College students in Professor Neil Lerner’s seminar on music and disability studies to produce a blog series highlighting composers and performers with disabilities. This post is a part of that series. Be sure to check WDAV: Of Note for additional blog posts focusing on different artist.