what is there to say? (art, politics)

Seokmin Ko,   The Square

Seokmin Ko, The Square

On Sunday evening, the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra performed The Star-Spangled Banner at each of our concerts.  It was no accident.  We designed a season about music and politics many months ago, fully aware that these performances would take place days before the U.S. presidential election.

What we didn't know was that Colin Kaepernick would elevate the discussion so much, and that the phrase "Please rise for the national anthem" would become such a contentious one.  We didn't know that some students in our Youth Symphony would kneel as they played it, or that our audiences would sing along with such gusto. 

I sat on the stage for one of those performances, behind my piano.  It's propaganda like any other kind: as with all workings of politics, it's designed to convince someone of something.  I welled up with tears at the soaring bridge ("And the rockets' red glare..."), partly because of the glory of these young musicians performing such proud music together, but mostly because it felt like deception.  

Is there any pride in a moment like this?  Only from those on the side of hatred and exclusion, it would seem.  

I remember a moment some years ago at the Brevard Music Center: an evening performance of Beethoven's 7th symphony out in the cool night air.  The flute singing up in the stratosphere, the brooding Allegretto marching into darkness.  I listened and thought, how is it possible that the same species senselessly killing one another has also produced masterworks like this one?  

It's a painful juxtaposition, the same one I experienced Sunday, which places a real threat to my life and safety (politics) squarely in the center of what I do and love (art).  

Perhaps it has never been more important to be an artist than it is now.  A female artist.  A mixed-race artist.  A queer artist.  Expressive, insistent, unapologetic pluralism is what a nation of white supremacists fears the most.  

I don't know what we say or where we go from here.  Onward is our only option. 

ART, SPIRITR.E. Maleyart, politics