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Monday, January 30, 2017

Music on Monday: Protests, Riots, and Refugees



Music on Monday is a weekly series featuring music that connects with the current events of my life in some way and that might be interesting to those who would like to learn more about classical music. 

On Thursday evening, May 29, 1913, a riot broke out in Paris. This riot did not take place in the streets, but in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées during the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring.

Stravinsky said this of his inspiration:
I had a fleeting vision, which came to me as a complete surprise, my mind at the moment being full of other things. I saw in imagination a solemn pagan rite: sage elders, seated in a circle, watched a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to the god of spring.
No one is sure what prompted the riot. It might have been the strikingly dissonant harmonies that were in such great contrast to the traditional, lyrical sound of music popular among the elites that frequented the ballet in Paris. It might have been the choreography which featured primitive stamping and was certainly a far cry from the style of dance the audience was accustomed to. More likely it was a result of the conflict between the two opposing types of audience member, one being the elite patron of high art, and the other being the Bohemian type who would support anything that was "new." The former group felt they were being laughed at with this "disrespectful" display of vulgarity.

But the most interesting thing about the riot was the response of the director, Serge Pavlovich Diaghilev. Stravinsky himself remembers it this way:
Diaghilev's only comment was, ‘Exactly what I wanted.' He certainly looked contented. No one could have been quicker to understand the publicity value, and he immediately understood the good thing that had happened in that respect. Quite probably he had already thought about the possibility of such a scandal when I first played him the score, months before, in the east corner ground room of the Grand Hotel in Venice.
We seem to live now in a world where protests happen every other day. Even when I agree at least in some degree with the sentiments of the protesters, I'm hesitant to support this as a means of dissent. I think it is often a case of playing right into the hands of the impresario behind the scenes.

I am deeply sad for the upheaval in the lives of law-abiding, innocent people who have been affected by the President's executive order on immigration. I do want tighter immigration control, but I didn't want it to be done at the deep emotional and financial expense of individual families and people who were completely innocent of any wrongdoing or wrong motives, especially when our country had entered into a good faith contract by issuing them valid visas or green cards. These people were treated like criminals when they arrived, some of them placed in handcuffs, and some who possessed green cards were deported before the court order came to prevent it. These were refugees from war-torn areas, doctors who can't return to the hospitals where they worked helping Americans, employees of American businesses, people who worked as interpreters helping our military whose lives are in danger as a result, families who just wanted to spend time together...these were not terrorists. (I'm not going to link to all the stories here. If the only news you read comes from agencies that have not reported on the human face of this immigration ban, I encourage you to investigate on your own.) I don't agree that the price these people have and are paying is just the sad but necessary cost of making our country safe. We could have implemented stricter vetting practices without hurting good people in the process. But if that upsets you, please be careful about how you handle your reaction.

It feels good to protest en masse. But, if it sparks sensationalist accusations and overblown rhetoric, then the very real truths that need to be addressed are lost as the other side castigates the protesters for the exaggerations. Sensationalism makes the accusation of "fake news" believable, and sensational rhetoric will be dismissed by the impresario rubbing his hands together and saying "Exactly what I wanted."

But, similarly, those denouncing fake news should beware, too. You might be missing the kernel of truth hidden inside a story that also contains some falsehood by rejecting the whole thing out of hand. Those truths deserve to be seen, and both the left and right need to make sure they're not being manipulated by voices encouraging them to embrace a particular ideological message at any cost.

A complete report of the President's executive order on immigration should include the reasons for it, the reasons against it, and should put a human face to the effects of it. If the stories you've read don't include all of that, question them.

So what to do instead of protest?

Contact your elected officials. It's not as flashy as a protest, but sustained effort can pay off. This is a huge privilege of American citizens. Use it.

Don't engage in facebook or twitter feuds. It's counterproductive. I'm learning.

Be very, very diligent about vetting what media you share. I've posted some things and then taken them down. I'm learning. The number one question to ask yourself is whether the story seems to be written to generate sympathy for an ideological position, or whether it is a factual representation of all the facets of the story. I reject the idea that journalists should be "thought leaders" rather than objective reporters. The 24-hour news cycle has done more harm than good. I know people who watch it all day like it's a constant soap opera.

Above all, don't lose your compassion. I feel deep compassion regarding the safety of my countrymen, but I don't think that means that I have to sacrifice compassion for innocent people who, through no fault of their own, have been caught up in this maelstrom. I'm praying for them, and I'm also praying for wisdom, discretion, compassion, and diplomacy for our elected officials and citizens. I hope you are, too.

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