University of Maryland Offers “Music and Community in Response to War”
Dec 14, 2023
Earlier this fall, Craig Kier, the director of University of Maryland’s Arts For All initiative, was searching for a way that Arts for All, and the College of Arts and Humanities in which Arts for All is housed, could respond to the eruption of war in the Middle East. At the same time, a previously scheduled concert by the Jerusalem Youth Chorus–a decade-old Israeli-Palestinian “music and dialogue project” that brings together young musicians from East and West Jerusalem–had to be cancelled at the university’s Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts at short notice due to the violence in Israel and Gaza.
Kier and colleagues hoped a fitting response would be to gather musicians from the UMD community for a performance that demonstrated the role the arts can play in strengthening community and providing “light in the darkness” during times of division, violence and conflict. In less than two weeks, Kier and colleagues from around campus planned and presented “Music and Community in Response to War,” held in one of the halls at the Clarice.
In a program note, the organizers wrote the concert was meant to “provide space for reflection, mourning and a way to support each other in community. As we acknowledge how the devastation of war in the Middle East and other parts of the world is affecting countless communities, we welcome all members of the UMD community and beyond to experience the power of music as a reminder of our interconnectedness and to re-center together in empathy and compassion.”
In crafting the program, Kier said, “I worked directly with colleagues in the School of Music speaking one-on-one with the leadership and faculty to explore how to [select] a program that represented the breadth of artistry within the School. We wanted to feature students and faculty. We used American Music as a starting point and, while there were a few pieces that fell outside this, American music served as a fitting way to center the programming. I carefully curated the repertoire, and at times had to ask for additional possibilities if the suggested piece represented a specific faith or point of view that may work against the larger goal of highlighting our shared humanity and desire to bring the entire community together.” The resulting program featured diverse works, many explicitly engaging themes of war and peace, by Florence Price, Aaron Copeland, Felix Mendelssohn and Samuel Barber, among others, performed by UMD School of Music student ensembles; acclaimed countertenor and UMD faculty member John Holiday closed the program with performances of “Strange Fruit,” “Fix You” by Coldplay, and “Lean on Me.”
The Jerusalem Youth Chorus was also invited to perform “Reason to Love,” a song written by MALINDA and JYC founder and artistic director Micah Handler, via livestream. Kier says, “Their participation served as a fitting way to focus the evening, provide some perspective that was crucial to hear, and importantly, ensure the University was not viewed as politicizing this event, nor ignoring the reality that the current moment is extremely complex and polarizing.”
In addition to the musical selections, Kier invited campus leaders to speak on the themes of the program. President Darryl Pines, Provost Jennifer King Rice, and Deans Robert Orr (School of Public Policy) and Stephanie Shonekan (College of Arts and Humanities) all gave remarks, as did Micah Hendler, Jerusalem Youth Chorus’s founder and artistic director.
The organizers knew that protest at the event was a distinct possibility and worked with campus leadership and police to plan a comprehensive, peaceful response. A script was prepared for Dean Shonekan to read from the stage if protesters interrupted the performance, and a team of faculty and staff was in place to meet with protestors outside the performance space to hear their concerns if necessary. Ultimately, the concert occurred without incident.
The performance in the 300-seat recital hall was sold out, with several hundred more watching via the livestream (the recording is still available and can be viewed below). The audience was a mix of students, administrators, faculty, staff and community members. Kier said, “our sense was (based on our own first hand experience and hearing from others) that the opportunity to come together to reflect and mourn these current events was important.”
He continued, “We had this performance very early on in the conflict and while much continues to happen, this gathering continues to be lifted up as an official University response to current events and we have heard only positive comments from those who attended and those who have heard about it. It not only served as an important response to our immediate community (students, faculty, staff, donors, etc), but also the larger community beyond UMD.”
Main image (top left): Members of the University of Maryland Chamber Singers perform Mendelssohn’s V”erleih’ uns Frieden (Grant us peace).”
Watch the Performance