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Music at the New York Armory
We received this from a cousin, who is a professor at the College of Library
and Information Science, University of South Carolina Columbia, SC 29208. A
very toughing story.
Rufus and Betty Sinclair
Some of you may know William Harvey, a gifted violinist from Indianapolis,
who is now a freshman at the Juilliard School in New York City. This is his
moving and exceptional story:
Yesterday I had probably the most incredible and moving experience of my
life. Juilliard organized a quartet to go play at the Armory. The Armory is
a huge military building where families of people missing from Tuesday's
disaster go to wait for news of their loved ones. Entering the building was
very difficult emotionally, because the entire building (the size of a city
block) was covered with missing posters. Thousands of posters, spread out up
to eight feet above the ground, each featuring a different, smiling, face.
I made my way into the huge central room and found my Juilliard buddies. For
two hours we sight-read quartets (with only three people)! And I don't think
I will soon forget the grief counselor from the Connecticut State Police who
listened the entire time, or the woman who listened only to "Memory" from
Cats, crying the whole time.
At 7, the other two players had to leave; they had been playing at the Armory
since 1 and simply couldn't play any more. I volunteered to stay and play
solo, since I had just got there. I soon realized that the evening had just
begun for me: a man in fatigues who introduced himself as Sergeant Major
asked me if I'd mind playing for his soldiers as they came back from digging
through the rubble at Ground Zero. Masseuses had volunteered to give his men
massages, he said, and he didn't think anything would be more soothing than
getting a massage and listening to violin music at the same time.
So at 9:00 p.m., I headed up to the second floor as the first men were
arriving. From then until 11:30, I played everything I could do for memory:
Bach B Minor Partita, Tchaik. Concerto, Dvorak Concerto, Paganini Caprices 1
and 17, Vivaldi Winter and Spring, Theme from Schindler's List, Tchaik.
Melodie, Meditation from Thais, Amazing Grace, My Country 'Tis of Thee,
Turkey in the Straw, Bile Them Cabbages Down. Never have I played for a more
grateful audience. Somehow it didn't matter that by the end, my intonation
was shot and I had no bow control. I would have lost any competition I was
playing in, but it didn't matter. The men would come up the stairs in full
gear, remove their helmets, look at me, and smile.
At 11:20, I was introduced to Col. Slack, head of the division. After
thanking me, he said to his friends, "Boy, today was the toughest day yet. I
made the mistake of going back into the pit, and I'll never do that again."
Eager to hear a firsthand account, I asked, "What did you see?" He stopped,
swallowed hard, and said, "What you'd expect to see."
The Colonel stood there as I played a lengthy rendition of Amazing Grace
which he claimed was the best he'd ever heard. By this time it was 11:30,
and I didn't think I could play anymore. I asked Sergeant Major if it would
be appropriate if I played the National Anthem. He shouted above the chaos
of the milling soldiers to call them to attention, and I played the National
Anthem as the 300 men of the 69th Division saluted an invisible flag.
After shaking a few hands and packing up, I was prepared to leave when one of
the privates accosted me and told me the Colonel wanted to see me again. He
took me down to the War Room, but we couldn't find the Colonel, so he gave me
a tour of the War Room. It turns out that the division I played for is the
Famous Fighting Sixty-ninth, the most decorated division in the US Army. He
pointed out a letter from Abraham Lincoln offering his condolences after the
Battle of Antietam...the 69th suffered the most casualties of any division at
that historic battle. Finally, we located the Colonel. After thanking me
again, he presented me with the coin of the regiment. "We only give these to
someone who's done something special for the 69th," he informed me. He
called over the division's historian to tell me the significance of all the
symbols on the coin.
As I rode the taxi back to Juilliard...free, of course, since taxi service is
free in New York right now...I was numb. Not only was this evening the
proudest I've ever felt to be an American, it was my most meaningful as a
musician and a person as well. At Juilliard, kids are hypercritical of each
other and very competitive. The teachers expect, and in most cases get,
technical perfection. But this wasn't about that.
The soldiers didn't care that I had so many memory slips I lost count. They
didn't care that when I forgot how the second movement of the Tchaik went, I
had to come up with my own insipid improvisation until I somehow (and I still
don't know how) I got to a cadence. I've never seen a more appreciative
audience, and I've never understood so fully what it means to communicate
music to other people. And how did it change me as a person?
Let's just say that, next time I want to get into a petty argument about
whether Richter or Horowitz was better, I'll remember that when I asked the
Colonel to describe the pit formed by the tumbling of the Towers, he
couldn't. Words only go so far, and even music can only go a little further
Your friend, William Harvey