Have nine minutes to spare today? Spend that time in contemplation as you listen to a majestic performance by the Western Piedmont Symphony and view the powerful video that accompanies the music.
The video was produced in collaboration with Lenoir-Rhyne University and the Hickory Museum of Art.
The project is a musical response to a year of turmoil, according to Maestro Matthew Troy. The symphony chose "Adagio for Strings" to set the mood. The art museum created a space for the people of Hickory to create images that reflected racial strife as well as a push for understanding and eventually peace. The video also focuses on the empty chairs of the auditorium as the symphony plays, a nod to the pandemic that has pushed our community apart at a time when we need to be together.
The video closes with these words from Lenoir-Rhyne’s Dr. Summer Carrol:
“But there is beauty from the ashes, new life from the lost; the me that was God’s idea survives.”
Troy, John Carfagno, executive director of the Hickory Museum of Art, and Ingrid Keller, executive director of the symphony, answered questions about the project.
How did the idea for the video take shape?
Troy: 2020 has been such a challenging and unique year in so many ways, and it has been very difficult for artists and musicians because we are not able to perform and earn our living in ways that we could before. The two issues of COVID-19 and the racial strife that we have been experiencing as a country have been on my mind a lot. I wanted to create something that would offer the audience some emotional catharsis and help them digest the impact of these issues. Music can be such a powerful tool of expression and something that can unify a community, and I think this video will move the audience and touch them on a human level.
Was there an impetus that led to the idea?
Troy: I wanted the Western Piedmont Symphony to create something that we could have years into the future that would memorialize this challenging year. There is no doubt that all of us and all community organizations have been changed by these events, so I wanted us to have something to be proud of that would reflect our core values during this unique time.
How many hours went into the filming?
Keller: We had one full production day that took nine hours from start to finish. The director had a very detailed plan so only about five hours was spent actually filming. We also recorded the audio live and that took about three hours. The editing portion was much more time-consuming.
Why "Adagio for Strings"?
Troy: The "Adagio for Strings" by Samuel Barber has traditionally been used for important moments of national mourning, so it seemed like the appropriate choice. But there also as the piece builds there is a yearning and reaching to a higher level, something that is striving for resolution and the promise of a better tomorrow.
Who visualized the concept for the art?
Carfagno: This summer Hickory Museum of Art opened our space to provide a stage for creative and artistic expression. We hoped we could provide an outlet for the anguish, distress and the pain that the fine art world (is experiencing) today, as well as to amplify the spirit of hope and possibility that is being directed toward building a new tomorrow. The museum invited our community to contribute to a 10-by-65-foot collaborative canvas stretching the length of the Coe gallery. The project was open to all people regardless of age, background or ability. The participants submitted a proposal and then booked a socially distanced time to work in our gallery. Our team was absolutely blown away by the submissions we received.
He added: We believe Black Lives Matter and stand with all who appeal for an end to racism, marginalization and intolerance. At HMA, we are committed to listening, learning and doing more to activate creativity toward forging a stronger community. … I can tell you it is absolutely impossible to stand before the canvas and not be inspired and transformed.
What message do you hope the video conveys to Hickory?
Keller: Almost all of the virtual content that we are producing is light-hearted and meant to be uplifting but the fact of the matter is, 2020 has presented some truly unique challenges for us all and it has not been easy. We are certain it is a year that we will not soon forget and we expect that the trauma of this year will be felt for years to come. We want this video to offer anyone who watches it the opportunity for meditation, reflection and emotional release.
What has been the reaction?
Keller: We have had an overwhelming response of people who have expressed amazement at the quality of the production and at how powerful and emotional it is.
Troy: This work demonstrates the Western Piedmont Symphony's commitment to this community and makes us a leader among American orchestras for taking innovative and bold steps forward.
What was the most challenging part of this effort?
Keller: Depends who you ask! For me, it was the fundraising and logistics of coordinating the production and the timeline. Fundraising is always a challenge in the orchestral world but the logistics presented a new set of challenges. We were bringing together the largest group of musicians since the start of the pandemic and had to apply new and unfamiliar processes and protocols to make it happen. Not to mention, they hadn't played music together for seven months and we only had a limited time to rehearse before the recording. The results were really great, considering all the obstacles. Matt?
What was the most enjoyable part?
Keller: The response. Now when I share the video, I've begun offering the disclaimer to have a box of tissues nearby when watching. The quality really is undeniable and the power of that piece of music and the images together ... it's demonstrative of the impact and power that symphony orchestras can have.
What should we know about the project?
Troy: This project reflects our core values as an organization. This is one among many steps that the Western Piedmont Symphony is taking to make sure that great music and artistic experiences are powerful, relevant, and available to ALL members of the community.