Ich Danke Dir

Monday, July 14, 2014

Today marked our first official rehearsal of Annelies here in Oxford with the master himself—James Whitbourn. We started the day off with a lecture from the principal of St. Stephen’s House about the evolution of church music in the Anglican tradition. From there we entered into rehearsal mode and prepared to dig into the beautiful behemoth that is Annelies. On all accounts, the rehearsal went very well, and the following master classes were equally inspiring.

I have to be honest, though, as I’m writing this, my mind is rather preoccupied. After our first master class of the day, which ended at 6:30 p.m., the alto section decided to go to dinner together (which is always an adventure). As we turned the corner out of St. Stephen’s we heard shouting and clearly a crowd was congregating on the street where we had planned to meet up. The noise elevated as we got closer, and as soon as we got to the intersection we saw the flags. A massive group of protesters were marching and chanting “Free Free Palestine.” Wanting to avoid getting into a sticky situation, a group of us took the back route to the restaurant. While we were sitting outside on the patio, though, the protesters marched past us going the opposite direction, toward the City Centre. Luckily, no one from CIO was involved, and the protest appeared to be peaceful, but I’m left with a lingering feeling of melancholy.

Being here in this place that has been the nexus of educational and philosophical revolutions, it’s unbelievably humbling to see a group of people exercising their right to free expression in such a powerful way. When I think about what’s happening in that area of world I can’t help but get choked up, especially when thinking about how lucky we are to have the freedom to be artists without fear or inhibition. While we’re here trying to make the world a more beautiful place through our music, such ugliness and hate still exist.

In the context of tomorrow’s performance of Annelies, I can’t help but feeling that what we’re doing is setting an example and giving voices to the millions of oppressed peoples everywhere who have no voice themselves. Tomorrow’s performance will no doubt be moving in and of itself; we’re performing this amazing piece about an amazing story written by an amazing human being. It occurred to me in preparation for this trip to Oxford that performing this work in the place that this atrocity was very much real and still affects culture today would be an extremely humbling event. In the States we certainly can read and view images of what happened; we can even talk to the survivors and travel abroad to the concentration camps. But the truth of the matter is, we will never know what it was like to be here in Europe while this was happening. Having witnessed this cry for freedom tonight, I feel I have a new perspective on the significance of our performance tomorrow.

Part of the reason that Anne Frank’s story lives on today is that despite everything, she possessed a seemingly unlimited capacity for hope. To me, that’s what it’s all about. The whole point of reviving the words of this iconic girl is not about trying to understand what happened to her or about justifying the adversity in our own lives. It’s about hope. It’s about realizing that she was right to believe in the goodness of the human spirit. Despite everything, she never gave up hope and never lost her connection to humanity. We can find strength in her memory and the memories of all those lost not only in the Holocaust, but in all tragedies. When human rights are violated we must stand for justice and freedom; we absolutely must. Annelies provides us an opportunity to do just that. It provides a vehicle by which we can remind the world of what happened and that in spite of the horror there is hope. If we commit ourselves to perpetuating the memory of that horrific event maybe we can prevent it from happening again. We have to hope and have faith in ourselves that we possess the power to enact change and prevent the violation of human rights.

When thinking about what I saw on the street tonight and its causes and implications, I can’t help but hear Anne’s words in my head:

Ich danke dir für all das Gute und Liebe und Schӧne
Thank you, God, for all that is good and dear and beautiful 

About choralmusicinstitute

Presented by Westminster Choir College of Rider University and Oxford University's St. Stephen's House, the one-week institute provides instruction to all levels of conductors.
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