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An orchestra of 300 million

1 Robert Levine

Last Saturday I was on my way to New York, which in practice is pretty much an all-day business. So I saw almost nothing about the Tucson shootings until I heard about them during the League seminar I was helping out with on Sunday. What I heard then caught me off-guard; apparently one of the people in the seminar (the League’s annual management boot camp) was a friend of Gabe Zimmerman, the aide to Congresswoman Giffords who was killed in the attack.

This is a country of 300 million people. But it never fails to amaze me how few degrees of separation exist between any of us. I was almost as surprised when I found out I knew someone who was killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

When I turned on the TV to watch the memorial event last Tuesday, I found myself listening to Copland as played by members of the Tucson Symphony. Those musicians didn’t go into music thinking they would be playing at such a memorial event. But I doubt that anything they’ve ever done, or will do, in their careers, will have as much impact on as many people as that few minutes did. If anyone in Tucson had doubted the value of the orchestra to their community (and I’m sure plenty have over the years), they weren’t doubting on Tuesday.

We all know the passage in which John Donne writes about human connectedness:

No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

The “meditation” of which this passage is a part actually begins:

Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.

The whole sermon is based on the notion of the bell as a reminder that there’s more to life than… life.

Orchestras are not “entertainment” or “show business.” They’re most certainly not “non-profit businesses.” And, while it’s easy for orchestra musicians to forget, they’re not just employers either. Orchestras are bells, reminding us all that there’s something beyond the day to day.


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  1. Comment by Nicole Stacy
    January 27, 2019 at 4:30 PM

    Well said.