The Powerful Humanity of the Arts
We live in an uncivil time. We have local to international leaders questioning whether or not we should extend the hand of welcome to people fleeing unspeakable atrocities around the globe. We have horrific natural disasters occurring across the country and beyond. We have radicals, both at home and abroad, bringing unrest and fear to nearly every corner of the planet.
But do you know what else we have in this very uncivil time?
We have the arts. And we have artists.
I recently attended the Symphony After Dark Music of the Middle East concert by the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra at The Fargo Theatre. I had had one of those weeks that felt like three weeks of work crammed into one, and I was not dying to go to one more event.
But in the back of my mind, a conversation I had had earlier in the week with conductor Christopher Zimmerman kept replaying. He was so enthusiastic about this concert and the guest artists; he was so insistent that this music was exceptional. I simply felt I had to go.
Thank goodness for Midwestern guilt and a strong work ethic.
Christopher introduced the guest artists, men from Turkey, Macedonia and Syria — parts of the world I have no personal connection to and only know through news coverage.
But I can’t honestly say that is true anymore.
Syrian composer Malek Jandali’s talk moved me to tears as he referenced an ancient Syrian melody that could be heard in the centuries-old Jewish temples, Christian churches and Muslim mosques, all on the same streets of Syrian towns, and all now completely destroyed. Obliterated by hatred and war.
But do you know what lives on, beyond the hate and destruction? That melody lives on because he wove it into his stunning piece, “Variations for Piano and Orchestra”.
Somehow, in the midst of absolute destruction, this melody, one that has sustained people through time and tragedy, across the centuries, was played by our symphony, people who live and work in our community.
And for one transcendent evening, I was part of the fabric of those ancient peoples and of the current people of Syria, misplaced and brutalized but clinging to their art when all else is gone.
Jandali also praised our symphony and community because after sending this piece of music to 300 American symphonies, ours was one of only three to respond.
I left that concert more refreshed, more committed to the phenomenal power of the arts and more aware of our obligation and sacred privilege as artists to find ways to preserve and reveal the cultures, people and histories so often easily wiped out by factors beyond our control.
I have heard a lot of amazing music in my life, but this concert was not simply about great music; this concert introduced me to the humanity of misunderstood countries half a globe away. I’ll never forget this night and the beautiful civility in which I was surrounded.
And that is why we must embrace the arts and artists. When all else fails, when all else is wiped away, we are left with the arts to tell our stories.
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, October 30, 2017.