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Published: Saturday, 10/6/2001

Turning to the arts for shared meaning, community

BY STEVEN CORNELIUS
BLADE MUSIC CRITIC

Introspection and retrospection are the watchwords. In attempts to assuage our common pain we turn to the arts for shared meanings, shared community.

Local figures in the Toledo arts community recently discussed how the arts can offer solace and fortitude in the wake of the tragedy of Sept. 11. They talked about making sense of the world, of pain and endurance, and about the children.

Each spoke passionately about the role of the performing arts in our uncertain world.

Theirs is an important mission. Perhaps at no time in the past half-century have the performing arts been so important to our community life. They are there to be what they have always been - a vehicle for reflective journeys inward and communal journeys outward, a vehicle to confirm the sanctity of life.

Renay Conlin, General Director of Toledo Opera

“The arts provide an important window into the soul of the human being. I can't imagine living without them - especially in times like these.

[On Sept. 11] I went home and listened to Mahler. Listening made me feel good to be alive and to be able to experience such beauty. I remembered that while mankind is capable of doing horrible things, we are also capable of doing good things, of bringing great things into the world.

Over the last few weeks I have seen musical events of all kinds uniting people and moving people. We have reaffirmed the importance of music and of all the arts.

I believe that now more than ever the arts have a unique and indispensable role in shaping our lives. The enduring worth of our nation lies in our shared values and the indomitable spirit that we have as Americans. Art helps us see the richness and diversity of the human experience. [Musical] performance puts you in touch with your emotions and allows you to express them in a way that you can't do in your everyday life.

We desperately need our musicians, our writers, our poets to help us make sense of the world, especially when it has become so chaotic. It is really important that now, as we are tending to look at people suspiciously, we work to break down the barriers of race and class and look to see what it is we have in common.”

Robert Bell, President and CEO of Toledo Symphony

“With a loss of innocence comes reflection. That is where we come in. We are merchants of reflection. Yes, we are in the entertainment business, but we also give a sense of the joy and goodness in life.

People use music on every special occasion because it represents something good about life. It is an important representation of humanity in its most sophisticated aspect. It is a representation of feeling.

Music probes the human condition and gives people a chance to partake in the commonality of feeling. Everyone involved can take something special away, a sense of inspiration, of quality, substance, and meaning.

Over the past weeks we have received tearful calls from people telling how much our recent performances have meant to them.

What we have now is a challenge to preserve the whole idea of the art as a representation of something wonderful and good about humanity. If we fail, we descend into a state of cynicism and unfeeling.

I suspect that even musicians are now looking deeper into what they are doing than perhaps they may have a few weeks ago. They are looking for a way to express the inexpressible.

When you look at the unspeakable happenings in New York and Washington you realize the frailty of existence.”

Toledo native Dennis Russell Davies, Chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra

“Music offers time for reflection, for going inward. Those of us who have the privilege and ability to work as artists must concentrate on what we do and be sure to do the best we can. People will need us in times like these.

Every week and every day we do good work that is significant for people in spiritual and philosophical ways. It is times like these that make our work even more important.

Everything in daily life has changed. But one thing is clear: This action brought home the fact that we are all part of a global village. Our fates are intertwined.

Americans have always been pretty far away from anything like this. In Germany people were shocked and frightened. People felt that if it was happening to us, it could happen anywhere.

During the war in Kosovo people in Vienna were really uptight. You have to remember that conflict is much closer here.

Artists have an important opportunity and responsibility to respond, even if the [specific] work they are doing doesn't seem appropriate to a specific sad event. You can respond, as many have, with a special event, but somehow it is most important to get on with one's daily life. It is important that people have a way to get their feet back on the ground. This is a role that the arts can play.”

Andrew Massey, Music Director of the Toledo Symphony

“An event of such enormity we hardly can begin to imagine. Yet, I remember composers telling me of works they wrote during the Second World War, of the responsibility to create beauty while violence is taking place around them.

People's reactions have been tempered by the fact that they always felt safe here. I had always been very conscious of the fact that there had been no land war on American soil within anyone's current lifetime. I was born after [World War II] but was always deeply aware of its effects on England. We used to park our cars in spaces made by bombed-out buildings.

Now as then, the arts can be a respite to help us get away from the stress. People have been telling us that they have found the recent concerts particularly rewarding and comforting. They have even been pleased by the fact that the music still goes on.

There seems to be a new appetite for seriousness. The arts are still there functioning as they always have, but now we realize how important they are. Their role has been made manifest by the events that have occurred. They help us stay in contact with the spiritual nature of being human.

What has happened makes clear what the role of the arts really is. It confirms that there are values beyond the trivial ones. In our concerts we can make sure that we keep the spiritual life alive.”

Nigel Burgoine, Artistic Director of the Toledo Ballet

“My feelings and concerns were for our young children. Obviously, [Sept. 11] was a huge shock for our kids. We closed that day, but as we opened the next day we knew the studio had to be a happy place for them to be. It had to be a hardworking and achieving place as well. We had to be focused, but we also had to be happy. There were things I did. I got little American flags for all the teachers to give to their students to put on their leotards in class.

These children are the future of America. I want them to know that [Toledo Ballet] is a strong, good place that will keep going and continue to nurture talent.

When it comes to performance, we are going forward. We are already preparing The Nutcracker.

Speaking more broadly, we all have to keep up a positive spirit and attitude. As every performer knows, the most awful things can happen during the day, but when the music starts and the curtain goes up you have to go out there and entertain to the best of your ability. Every artist will give naturally and unselfishly. It is just part of what we do.

I have lived through terrorism in London. Many times the theaters were evacuated. You just have to keep a positive attitude and continue to do what you do.

Everybody is affected, but you still go forward.”



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