|Jadine Louie is the artistic director of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band. Photo by Heidi Beeler.
So Iâ€™ve got my next T-shirt all worked out. Black with white block lettering that says â€ś9/11/11: I survived the Media Blitz.â€ť And on the back, â€śNever Forgetâ€¦ how can I when you wonâ€™t shut up about it?â€ť
Okay, I know. Depending on your proximity to the actual September 11 attacks, that comment ranges from a teensy bit to harsh on a cosmic scale.
Even without hours of coverage, we all know that 9/11 is the defining horrific moment for our generation. Just as Boomers know where they were when JFK was shot, the day the Twin Towers rode into the earth with thousands of people onboard is frozen in time for those of us who watched it live. We couldnâ€™t believe, even happening before our eyes, that anything like that was possible. The collective attention on this anniversary is an acknowledgment of that shared horror - a way to honor the lives lost and the people who stepped forward to contain it.
Still, the non-stop bombardment of features, photos, recordings, videos playing on the internet, the radio, the television turned a day of shared mourning into a ratings game on the biggest of all possible reality TV shows. Last week, it seemed like every appliance had â€ś9/11â€ť spewing out of it and I even began to eye my toaster with suspicion. Mourning becomes Electronica, indeed.
My memory of 9/11 is nothing like its 10th anniversary. What I remember most about that day in San Francisco was the silence. As I drove to work, an NPR reporter described a surprising plane accident in Manhattan. While she spoke, the second plane hit the South Tower, and I remember her slow stammer as she began to understand this was no accident. By the time a third plane crashed in DC and a fourth in Pennsylvania, no one was sure who was targeted or where the attacks came from. The entire country went into lockdown. We were sent home; all flights were grounded. As I drove home midmorning, the Financial District was silent. Streets were empty; stores, dark. We turned to our TVs and absorbed hours of news, desperate to understand.
On September 11, 2001, San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band was scheduled to play its fall concert. By mid-afternoon, the musicians began phoning to ask if the concert was cancelled. The San Francisco Symphony, the opera, all the theaters had called off their performances â€“out of respect for the victims and because any public gathering was considered a safety risk. After hours of watching plane crashes and skyscraper collapses, our artistic director, Jadine Louie, made a different choice. She sent an email saying that rather than sit at home, she wanted to make music together. She understood if anyone felt too unsafe to come, but sheâ€™d conduct anyone who wanted to join her.
When Jadine took her place on the podium that night, all but a couple of the bandâ€™s 50 musicians sat before her, dressed in tuxes, ready for her downbeat. Twenty people sat in the audience. Jadine welcomed us, band members and audience alike, acknowledged the dayâ€™s shock. Then we played into the cityâ€™s silence.
All us band geeks will tell you thereâ€™s something special about making live music. Sitting in a room with musicians as they play, you feel the vibrations of the instruments in your chest â€“ the woody hum of clarinets, oboes, bassoons; the ringing metal of trumpets, horns, tubas; the thrum of kettle drums, snares, cymbals. A chorus of any size is at its core multiples of four voices. A wind ensemble blends upwards of thirty distinct voice lines, each with its own sound, timber and color, and it lifts those voices in various combinations through the course of a piece.
On an average day, lending your instrumentâ€™s sound to that complex hum is exciting. On September 11, when weâ€™d come together to escape the dayâ€™s isolation, when we were shocked into awareness of every face, every sound in that room, making music together was an amazing gift. Over its 34 years, the Band has performed for presidential inaugurations and for parades with a million spectators and for movie stars in an Oscar-winning film. For many of us, playing for that tiny audience and each other was the most memorable of all.
This Friday, 10 years after that accidental 9/11 concert, the Band performs its fall concert, conducted by Jadine Louie. Among the pieces on a program that celebrates all of autumnâ€™s colors, brilliant and somber, is a tribute to the victims and survivors of the 9/11 attacks written by Eric Ewazen. In his program notes, he describes the enormity of the shock and how NYCâ€™s people then gathered to help each other. Ours is a remembrance in the lowest of tech.
- Heidi Beeler plays trumpet with the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band (www.sflgfb.org) and will play at its fall concert, Band Oâ€™Plenty, 8 pm, September 23. Write her at BrassTacks.SF@gmail.com.