New symphony breaks through to middle-classes

From an editorial by Jessica Langlois in the Tallahassee Democrat:


The last words of unarmed black men who were unnecessarily killed by police or authority figures isn’t the typical subject matter for classical music….

Thompson wrote “Seven Last Words” as a way to process his personal feelings about being a young black man in a country that doesn’t seem to care about his existence. He chose seven sets of last words as the text for his piece, arranging it into seven movements that purposefully parallel the text structure of Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Christ.”

The effect is radical empathy.

When humanity depends on piercing the armor of those who cannot or refuse to feel, artists are the guerrilla revolutionaries able to sneak past our emotional borders. This is especially true in classical music. Working in abstractions of beauty and fury, classical music has the unique power to translate the human condition into a common language.

Orchestra subscribers remain predominantly like me: white, of moderate income and largely disassociated with violent acts. With “Seven Last Words,” the composer wields his art and takes the opportunity to fracture the barriers of our cultural silo.

The music insists we cannot answer the question, “What if it were your child?” until we actually inhabit another parent’s grief. It draws listeners into an uncomfortable space where we feel a mother’s knees falling to the ground, the venom of injustice and the infinity of death. 

Read on here.

The symphony will be premiered this weekend.

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  • Police officers hardly ever shoot anyone with malice. Without knowing the exact circumstances of the people pictured above, I would bet money that in each and every case, the police officer who shot the deceased had to make a split-second decision while thinking his or her life was in danger at that very instant. American law makes it EXTREMELY difficult to convict a police officer for shooting a civilian and that’s the way it should be. Good luck finding people to be police officers if they were routinely prosecuted for using their weapons in very tense situations.

    As was the case with the Russia fiasco and Trump, the media blows each and every incident so far out of proportion, that people like Norman are led to believe that this is a regular occurrence. Compared to the number of times the police find themselves in difficult situations, the number of tragic accidents are blessedly small.

    • Key understandings: 1. You don’t know the circumstances. 2. You nonetheless have drawn your own conclusions. (PS – I’ve worked with law enforcement. Trust me, Barry, there is no shortage of people who want to be police officers. Good pay and benefits for the kind of work, and incidents around use of deadly force are extremely rare.)

      • Your statement may have held water years ago, but not after all of the B.S. that’s come down in the past five or so years.

        As far as drawing conclusions, do you (or Norman) know anything about how those people died? Do the media and community activists wait for all of the facts before putting out their narrative? Do you think Michael Brown was an innocent victim who really had his hands up and was shot without reason? That’s the message that “Hands up, don’t shoot” was all about in spite of the laundry list of facts and witnesses that contradicted that narrative (and by the way, witnesses who told the truth suffered big-time at the hands of angry community people who preferred the narrative to the truth).

        Pardon me for attempting to clear up a B.S. narrative that has been spoon-fed to the public by the media and social-justice warriors. If you want to swallow it, go ahead.

      • I stand by my original statement. So far, of all the high-profile police shootings of unarmed suspects, the ONLY where the officer was clearly guilty of a crime was the one in the park in South Carolina where the officer shot the guy who was running away from him in broad daylight. And that officer is currently in prison, where he belongs.

        • This likely is us propaganda « news »—in the us empire, the « news » was controlled /owned by huge publically traded corporations. Thefiduciary duty is to shareholders and advertisers.

      • I think we’ve heard enough about those stories to draw fairly reasonable conclusions about the incidents, as Barry has done. The lack of 100% data don’t improve the odds of coming to a reasonable conclusion. That’s just a dodge to impress the gullible.

        • Au contraire, Sara. Cops in the US are woefully underpaid considering the risks associated with their job. Check it out: Starting salary in Atlanta, a crime haven and major center for the trafficking of drugs, weapons, and sex slaves is a bit over $48K (max $72K before overtime). People who risk their lives daily to serve others deserve more respect. I don’t doubt that unwarranted shootings occasionally occur. But to have to make those sorts of snap judgments under incredible duress is not something anyone should have to endure.

          • No, they do make massive salaries and bévues. transparent California tells a far different story than us empire propaganda « news ».

          • Quoting « us news » is akin to quoting Eddie Bernays and what he thinks of bacon or ciggies.

    • Perhaps more training in dealing with, and de-escalating, tense situations might lead to an even smaller (and more blessed) number of tragic accidents. It seems that many of these blessedly few tragic accidents happen because the police officers involved don’t know what else to do besides fire their guns. I’ve watched a number (not a large number) of body-cam or bystander videos where the victim was running or walking away from the officer and posing no immediate threat to anyone let alone the officer involved. Of course this is not to imply that resisting arrest in any way is advisable, or that the officers didn’t truly believe they were in danger; but I wonder if it’s possible that more training in how to read & analyze situations in real time might help to avoid some of these tragic accidents. For instance, an officer may believe he or she is in mortal danger from the moment they get out of their patrol car, and thus be likely to react with gunfire to any sudden sensory stimulus at all. (Remember the case in, I believe it was Minneapolis, where an officer shot the lady who had called the police when she suddenly ran out of her home toward the police car? I saw another where an officer was investigating a reported prowler and ended up shooting a small dog that came around the corner barking.)

  • Joel Thompson (b.1988) is an Atlanta composer, pianist, conductor, and educator. His largest work, “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” for TTBB chorus, strings, and piano, was premiered November 2015 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club under the direction of Dr. Eugene Rogers. “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” won the American Prize in Composition, 2017/18. Thompson was a composition fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and School where he worked with composers Stephen Hartke and Christopher Theofanidis. Thompson taught at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta 2015-2017, and also served as Director of Choral Studies and Assistant Professor of Music at Andrew College 2013-2015. Thompson is a proud Emory alum, graduating with a B.A. in Music in 2010, and an M.M. in Choral Conducting in 2013. Joel is currently at Yale University earning his Master of Musical Art degree in Composition, a stepping stone to the D.M.A. [Doctor of Musical Arts] degree. His teachers include Eric Nelson, William Ransom, Laura Gordy, Richard Prior, John Anthony Lennon, Kevin Puts, Robert Aldridge, and Scott Stewart.

    • From the earlier comment by Jessica Langlois (author of the newspaper article): “His largest work, “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” for TTBB chorus, strings, and piano, was premiered November 2015 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club under the direction of Dr. Eugene Rogers.”

      I think the “breakthrough” is that this is/ will be the first professional performance.

  • While every such death is deeply regrettable, now it seems that no ‘woke’, SJW ‘white privilege’ middle-class guilt-trip bandwagon is too tacky to jump on.

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