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Home » Officer Columns » Executive Board Members » Our Music Is a Statement for Peace

Our Music Is a Statement for Peace


by Bruce Ridge, Chairman of ICSOM and Member of Local 500 (Raleigh, NC)

On January 7, the world was once again shocked by a despicable act of terrorism, this time on the streets of Paris. And also again, the world turned to music to respond to and attempt to recover from the scenes of hatred, even though it is impossible to make sense of such heinous acts.

In London, 150 musicians gathered to perform  Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” in memory of the victims of the attacks in Paris. In New York, the music director of the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert, dedicated a concert to the victims of the attack and to the “fundamental principle of freedom of speech.” “For this first concert of 2015, we were hoping to present a program of joyous music that would be possible to enjoy without thinking about the difficulties and troubles in the world,” he said. “Unfortunately, that is just not possible.”

In Paris, artists would not be silenced, even for a moment, by this assault on free speech. Plans for the opening of the new La Philharmonie, which will be Paris’s largest cultural venue, continued without hesitation. Performances by the Orchestre de Paris, the Paris Opera, and the Orchestre Philharmonic de Radio France went forward without interruption, in honor of the victims and in solidarity with the world community.

Opera and orchestra managers across Italy issued a joint statement defending “all the values that are an achievement of our civilization.”

In my home orchestra, North Carolina Symphony, our performance of “An American in Paris” was introduced by our guest conductor, Edwin Outwater, who stated, “this week, we are all Americans in Paris.”

As Leonard Bernstein famously said just after the assassination of President Kennedy, “This sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art. Our music will never again be quite the same. This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

At times of such inexplicable violence, music remains a salve for the world. Our performances across the world are displays of unity, reminding us of the best of the human spirit in moments where our TV screens are filled with images that could make us feel a sense of despair.

As artists, we must never feel such a sense of futility. Every note we play is a proclamation of support for the human race, and every concert we perform is inherently anti-violence and anti-terrorism.

As musicians and artists, we must never remain silent. Our expression of human emotion, both joyful and grief-stricken, is vital for the world.

During World War II, Winston Churchill is reported to have said: “The arts are essential to any complete national life. The state owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them … Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”

The Paris attacks were attacks on free speech, and on artists everywhere. In America, where orchestras are now seeing a recovery following the depths of the recession, we have renewed opportunities to serve our communities, to stand for freedom, and to make every performance a declaration of our faith in humanity. These acts will “inflame our art,” and renew our commitment to play music “more devotedly than ever before.” Every time we walk on stage holding our instruments, we are making a statement for peace.

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