We asked local composers about September 11th, and this is what they had to say:
My first thoughts of 9/11 are the literal cliche of "OMG, what's that on TV.. is it a movie?"
On 9/11/01, I was visiting my family an odd occurrence to be visiting them so late in September, but my Austin, Symphony and other duties just happened to be starting later in the month than usual. I sleep with the TV on and I just happened to have left it on CNN the night before--as my sleepy self started to register what was on TV the next morning I thought, " Wow, this is one of those creepy " real life" pretend disaster movies like the 1980s TV movie "Special Report" or "The Day After."
Of course then I realized to my horror, it was not a movie, and it was quite real . Then I heard the messages on the answering machine from my mother at work saying " As soon as you get up, you really need to turn on news, something very bad has happened in NYC."
My next thought was of concern for my NYC friends. I have always had many musician friends there but also at that time in one of my " other" work lives, I was writing a weekly column in a national TV magazine. I tried to call to make sure all of my magazine colleagues were OK and what would be the status of our deadlines. Needless to say I couldn't get through and instead of beating my head against the wall of that, I took a deep breath and said a great deal of prayers and realized I would hear from them as soon as they could get through, which thankfully I did indeed hear from all the people I was trying to contact by the next morning. (This was my first feeling of guilt for worrying about mundane job issues , "The world is forever changed and many people's lives , both living and deceased from this event, are destroyed. Am I going to hell for worrying about when for heaven's sake my column about friggin' TV show analysis is due?")
Then the immediate thought everyone is pondering in these guest blogs-- what shall I compose about this? I decided to take the very ironic route that I do in unspeakable tragedy :to attempt to write about trying to find hope where there seems to be none at the moment; to start searching for what possible redemption can be found in the aftermath of indescribable horror.
I do this because #1 : I think it's always quite the knee-jerk reaction to attempt to compose about all the horror and grief and I feel like tons of composers will already " go there" , as it were, and that they will do a better job of capturing THAT than I so I always look for a different approach-- and #2, I write SO Much music already tinged with Mahlerian darkness and angst that it seems almost insulting to the event and those who suffer the most deeply from said event If I just write something that is of the same color of all the music I write all the time anyway. I did the same thing when my father was killed in April 2009, I wrote a piece about redemption and ascension and my father (who had been ill for many years at the time he was killed) no longer being in any pain and now being in paradise with the Lord.
Moving on to October 11th, I was astoundingly flattered and blessed to be invited to perform on a series I appear on regularly, the Thursday at Noon concerts at Central Presbyterian Church in Downtown Austin. This concert was actually televised in part marking the one month demarcation of the horrific event and I performed some Bach and the piece I had indeed completed in reaction to 9/11. (I wrote another Prelude for solo bass, one of the eventually completed in a set inspired by the Chopin/Bach model-- pieces for solo bass--one in each key. Being the avid Messaien worshiper/admirer/stealer I am== I chose Messaien's key center he used often for religious redemption and transformation-- and composed "To Arise in a Prayer of Hope" : Prelude in F Sharp Major. )
I, like everyone else, was still in a very strange state of sadness, mourning and edginess. I played the short concert, then did short TV interview. Then I was trying to process my feelings by going outside for a walk, a cigarette and some coffee. When I walked back into that sanctuary, there was a middle-aged lady with her hand on my bass.
Still being edgy, my first reaction was appalled horror. I controlled myself enough not to run up to her and say "Hey !! What are you doing?? Get off of that !! That's not furniture lady, that's my life-- get away from there!!" But by the time I walked up to her, she had turned around and began to say the following:
"Mr. Waddle, I am sorry to be putting my hand on your bass violin. But my stomach has hurt non-stop since I found out what happened a month ago today. While you were playing your piece you wrote and those Bach movements, for the first time, my stomach stopped hurting. I just had to touch the large piece of wood that this nice long-haired young man used to finally make my stomach stop hurting."
She said "Thank you" as a tear ran down her face and walked off.
I was now alone in the church, and after my hating myself for wanting to at first yell at her, then my knees quite literally buckled. I collapsed into the front pew and then shed many tears of my own. Both in mourning and also in thankfulness that my playing that day touched someone so profoundly.
Since this was before our ubiquitous texting and social networking and such, it still pains me that I never caught that lady's name.
P.S. I want to also express my thankfulness that on the weekend of the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, I will get to perform Strauss' Death and Transfiguration in my position with The Austin Symphony.
P. Kellach Waddle
Hear Artists Respond this Sunday on Texas Public Radio: 4 p.m. on KPAC 88.3 FM and KTXI 90.1 FM, 8 p.m. on KSTX 89.1 FM. Read more composers, conductors and artists creative responses here.