April 5th, 2017

In these distressing times, a welcome affirmation from the LGBTQ community


Last night we attended a San Francisco Symphony concert. It wasn’t an ordinary event. It was called Symphony Pride a fundraiser for five LGBTQ organizations.

The advertising described the special concert as “celebrating the Bay Area’s spirit of inclusion and diversity with a focus on the voices of the LGBTQ community … festive occasion … featuring six-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald who narrates Aaron Copland’s iconic Lincoln Portrait … reaffirming San Francisco’s commitment to equality for all.”

It was an emotional evening. The audience roared with appreciative applause like no other symphony audience. They obviously adore the maestro Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT to everyone in SF), the symphony’s conductor since 1995. MTT brought on stage his partner of 38 years who he was able to marry just two years ago. There were short videos of gay musicians from the orchestra who spoke of the welcoming workplace culture, an inclusive safe climate, at the symphony.

The mayor of the city spoke about resisting the Trump administration and its shameful reversals on human rights as a model for the rest of America. Again roaring applause. I’ve seen MTT conduct before. Never saw him jump so high. So animated. A virtual love affair with the audience. The passion of the artists was inspiring.

The talented, new mom Audra McDonald sang some lovely songs. Then, she went rogue with the 1968 Laura Nyro song Save the Country, at MTT’s admitted encouragement (who could have predicted he is a fan of protest anthems?). With but one short rehearsal prior to the concert, she belted out the call for us all to “I’ve got fury in my soul … save the people …. save the children … lay the devil down … we can build a dream with love … save the country!” Pure rapture.

The late 1960’s was a time of confluence between the civil rights and peace movements. Remember peace? It’s harder now to remember there is an alternative to war. In America, we seem to fear peace, preferring the bluster of war to prove our “toughness.” I wept for what we once dreamed possible — getting out of Vietnam and eschewing might through only military means.

Leave it to the LGBTQ folks, persecuted for so long to show others how to love, to accept one another, and to drive out hate. To be in San Francisco is to be home for us. The embrace last night felt warm, like a glove, telling everyone they belong here in a no-hate zone. Of course, reality is not idyllic, but the concert was a time of suspended reality filled with possibilities and hope.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the sold-out hall as McDonald narrated Copland’s 1942 Lincoln Portrait. I felt vulnerable as Copland’s soaring Americana themes reached into my soul. (I love all of Copland’s works anyway.) But what pushed me and the audience over the top on this night spent reminding us all that America needs to rediscover its commitment to equality for everyone was Copland’s selections of Lincoln speeches — first as a Congressman, then as President. Copland said that Abraham Lincoln was, in his opinion, the “best this nation has ever heard to express patriotism and humanity and dignity.” I still hope we can restore what semblance of humanity and dignity we had as Americans because both are waning while we endure a vulgar and illiterate person at the helm.

Listen to James Earl Jones narrate with the Seattle Symphony and let yourself be swept away with hope, as I was.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 at 12:00 pm and is filed under Commentary by G. Namie. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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