(Photo | Courtesy of Central Oregon Symphony)
I cannot remember the last time that I did something at an orchestra concert directly related to current world events. It’s just not in my nature. The concert that the Central Oregon Chamber Orchestra performed on April 10, 2022, however, broke the silence.
A few weeks prior to the concert, I read a brief article about world renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, who recently sat outside of the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C. and played for anyone who cared to listen. Hardly anyone recognized him, though a bicyclist, Ryan Stitt, stopped and asked if he was Yo-Yo Ma. They had a pleasant conversation about why he was there taking a stand for the people of Ukraine. However, one comment Mr. Ma made stuck with Stitt: “Everyone has to do something.” This comment struck a chord with me as well.
I have friends who live in Ukraine. I have friends who live in Central Oregon who came from Ukraine. I worry about them and their families. What is the “something” that I can do?
My wife, Janet, and I visited Kiev, Ukraine in March 2019. We reveled in the beauty of this simultaneously ancient and modern place and were especially charmed by the people. With the barrage of wartime images that have plagued our screens as of late, my plan was to do something that would, even if for a few minutes, allow the audience to hear and perhaps envision something beautiful from Ukraine. So, at the last minute, and like so many ensembles around the world in recent weeks, we added a piece by a Ukrainian composer to the program.
Since the piece was not listed in the program, I provided an introduction for the audience. It began: “When I travel to places outside the United States, my souvenir of choice is cufflinks. Since I generally wear French cuffed shirts for concerts, I have numerous opportunities to wear cufflinks throughout the year. Every time I select a pair from my collection, I am flooded with memories.”
At this point, I was so choked up I could no longer talk.
After an exceptionally long and uncomfortable pause, I managed to continue, “These cufflinks are from Kiev, Ukraine.” I quickly gave the name of the composer and the piece, and we played. I was crying, members of the orchestra were crying, members of the audience were crying, people who were watching the livestream were crying. A cornucopia of humanity was revealed and shared, inspired by a few musical notes.
The piece that we played bears the unassuming title, Melody in A Minor, and was drawn from a film score written in 1981 by Ukrainian composer, Myroslav Skoryk (1938-2020). In the years that followed, this melancholy tune became a spiritual hymn of the Ukrainian people, a second national anthem, if you will. When asked, Skoryk said he wrote Melody to convey his understanding of tragedy and profound sadness, something impossible to express in words. Though I did not share the composer’s intent, there is no question that the audience understood; and it broke our collective hearts.
“Everyone has to do something,” says Mr. Ma. What weighs on your heart? What will you choose to do?