Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Memory Space

To say I don't care about things would be inaccurate. 

But when the world or the nation or even a community is affected by some large scale event, while I intellectually comprehend the ramifications and am rationally concerned about the people affected, I rarely feel anything.  Unless my daily routine is affected by a tragedy, it is rare that I am able to connect with any sort of emotion.  I frequently joke about how cold-hearted I am, and - in truth - it takes a lot to penetrate through to that central core of my being.

Like the rest of the country, I remember where I was on 09-11-01.  I even remember feeling on that day.  However, that feeling was probably most accurately described as "shock."  I think I also felt a grand sense of loss due to the absolute enormity of American lives affected.  But because of the way I process things, that feeling was short-lived, replaced almost immediately with rationality and distant concern.

In the weeks leading up to today, then, I've felt a bit like an outsider.  Normal people feel something on a day like today, and I knew I just wouldn't.

In a seemingly unrelated event, I was also reluctant to go watch a friend of mine sing with the Utah Symphony Chorus.  Knowing my apathy toward classical music, he said via text, "I'd invite you to my concert, but you'd consider it 'boring music,' so I won't invite you."  I told him to give me the info and I would seriously think about it.  I decided that the importance of supporting him overrode the dislike of classical music, and I would go.  He was able to arrange two free tickets for me, and so I invited my good friend Arlee (my new concert/show date; we've been to 4 together in the last few months) to go with me.

In a few spare moments, I decided to see if I could find anything out about the concert.  Poking around online I discovered it was to be a 9-11 Memorial Concert featuring an original composition by John Adams which had been commissioned to be played at a memorial concert the year following the attacks.  Then I started to remember a few of the details Skyler had told me about the piece, and I actually started to get really excited about going.

In all aspects of life, the more educated I am about a subject, the more enjoyable I find it.  Knowing something about the history of a football team or player makes even football seem more interesting.  So when we arrived, I looked specifically for the displays the website had mentioned which would explain John Adam's The Transmigration of Souls

My anticipation built.

A few quotes by composer John Adams:

"I want to avoid words like 'requiem' or 'memorial' when describing this piece because they too easily suggest conventions that this piece doesn't share. If pressed, I'd probably call the piece a 'memory space.' It's a place where you can go and be alone with your thoughts and emotions."

"I was touched by the fact that when people are deeply in shock over the sudden loss of a family member, they don't express themselves in fancy language. They don't start sprouting sonnets or highfalutin verse. They speak in the most simple of terms. When we say 'words fail,' we really mean it."

He also described how, in watching footage of the day, he was overwhelmed by the papers floating down from the two towers.  He felt - in their overwhelming numbers - that they represented the totality, the scope of the loss.

Arlee and I entered the concert hall and sat, continuing our discussions of literature and musical theater and education.  At last, the lights dimmed and the concert was to start.  An announcement was made:

"To honor the heroes and in memory of the victims of the attacks of September 11, 2001, we ask that you refrain from applauding during the first half of this evening's program, including Maestro Thierry Fischer's entrance.  Thank you for observing this as a moment of silence."

The Maestro entered.  Papers ruffled, patrons fidgeted, but slowly that noise dimmed and it seemed no breath was even drawn.  A pre-recorded tape began to play. 

Sounds of the shuffle that is New York City.

And then a voice:




And then the voice began to read names.  Names such as:

John Florio.

Christina Flannery.


The choir, getting their note from an "A" embedded in a siren call, added their voices to the tape.  The symphony began to play.  The haunting melodies and discordant harmonies blended and wove and rose and fell and circled around the tape, and in the quiet moments, I could hear:

Domingo Benilda.

Kevin D. Marlo.


The Madeleine Choir School provided a childrens chorus whose tone and talent could not be beat.  Their pure voices provided an intense contrast to the thicker, more developed voices of the Utah Symphony Chorus (USC).   The two choirs together sang words taken from "the words scribbled on posters at Ground Zero by families searching for and mourning their loved ones."

Words like:
Jeff was my uncle.
She looks so full of life in that picture.
I loved him from the start.

And it was beautiful.  Breathtakingly beautiful.

And then the children's choir sang:
The daughter says: He was the apple of my father's eye.

And the USC men sang:
The father says: I am so full of grief.  My heart is absolutely shattered.

And the choirs took turns singing:
The young man says: He was tall, extremely good looking, and girls never talked to me when he was around.
The neighbor says: She had a voice like an angel, and she shared it with everyone, in good times and bad.
And the women sang:
The mother says: He used to call me every day.  I'm just waiting.
And that phrase hung in the air.  "I'm just waiting."  And I felt something.  A deep, raw, honest emotion connected to this huge event. 
They continued:
The lover says: Tomorrow will be three months, yet it feels like yesterday since I saw your beautiful face, saying, "Love you to the moon and back, forever."
And I thought about how Kirk's cousin said something very similar at the funeral of her sister.
They continued:
The man's wife says: I loved him from the start...
And then the volume and intensity and dissonance increased as the choir repeated:
I wanted to dig him out.  I know just where he is.
I wanted to dig him out.
I wanted to dig him out.
I wanted to dig him out.
I know just where he is.
And I didn't just feel something.  It wasn't a small crack in the defenses around my heart.  Now, ten years later, I finally broke down the whole and total loss into its component parts.  To the mother.  To the sister.  The daughter.  The friend.  The neighbor.  The uncle.  The grandfather.
And the piece began to descend from its cresendo, fading back into the sounds of the New York streets and the voice:
John J. Lennon.
Jorge Luis Leon.
And the choir sang:
My sister.
My brother.
My daughter.
My son.
Best friend to many.
I love you.
And the Maestro held up his baton and the audience held its breath and the tape faded and no one dared move and even though the house was sold out we were not a group, but individuals lost in a memory space. 

Today, as we as a country reflect, if you struggle to feel, you may wish you join me in this incredible space John Adams created:

 Part 1 of 3 - Listen to the street sounds of NY

Part 2 of 3 - @ 3:09 - "The sister says:"

 Part 3 of 3 - @5:00 - sounds fading to silence