It’s taken me about 24 hours to process the latest outburst from the “Mike Brown was murdered” crowd – this time at one of the most elegant and beloved venues in St. Louis, Powell Symphony Hall. Â Here are the facts:
- Just as the conductor was about to begin at the Saturday night performance of Brahms Requiem by the vaunted Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, about 50 “protesters” stood up and caused a disturbance.
- All of the protesters were paying customers, and two banners were unfurled over the balcony of the Dress Circle Boxes, some of the most expensive tickets in the house. Â The banners said, “Racism Lives Here” and “Mike Brown” with a picture of his face and dates.
- Once the flash mob was done, the protesters left the building. Â According to an eyewitness report from an audience member, there were far more whites than blacks in the group.
While a Saturday evening crowd at Powell Hall tends to be more democratic than not, these are generally the sort of people who do not like their pleasure in live symphonic music disrupted. Â In fact, they are rather fastidious about it. Â But what really happened when the flash mob threw their little tantrum was breaking the concentration and “game face” time of the people on the stage. Â In any situation, that is disrespectful, but for the Brahms Requiem, especially so.
The Brahms Requiem is a masterpiece of 19th century music written in German and musically one of the most challenging pieces a chorus can tackle. Â The Saint Louis Symphony Chorus has sung it three times in the last ten years (I sang it twice with them in that time period). Â At that level of musicianship, one just doesn’t rehearse at the hall, but takes the music home and lives on Cyberbass for hours on end getting the music right. Â The German has to be practiced and the translation studied. Â It is NOT a Requiem Mass for the Dead, but a humanistic look at death. Â Brahms purposefully took the theology out of it, regardless of using some passages from Sacred Scripture in the text. Â When it comes down to it, let’s just say it’s a lot of work. Â And on a stage where “crowded like sardines” is not an epithet, but a reality resulting in dripping tuxedos and dresses by the end of the performance, it’s hot, nasty, sweaty work.
It is from THIS perspective that chorus members, especially, lashed out at the band of disruptors via social media Saturday night and into Sunday morning. Â One former colleague was most explicit in her comments of the disrespect of the group and her anger regarding the “look at me” aspect of the flash mob. Â For this sentiment – completely justified by natural feeling – this chorus member was soundly thrashed by other commenting parties.
The thoughts included:
- How DARE a performer object to the choice of venue.
- This is a southern white trash look at the situation.
- St. Louis racial issues are not going to go away and people have to face them.
- All venues are game, and we are all part of the problem.
Not going to call out specific people, but even some of my oldest friends sought to justify the flash mob as being “peacefully civilly disobedient.” Â This morning the Post-Disgrace even called the protest “respectful” which it most certainly was not. Â A respectful and peaceful protest is setting up signs and picketing across Grand Boulevard from the venue, not ruining the atmosphere at the symphony just because you can. Â That’s rude.
Without realizing it, my former colleague put her finger on the larger issue which has emerged from the Ferguson protests. Â They have become “look at me” moments – and from all sorts of people who are deluded into thinking they are doing good with their actions. Â At a certain point they are not. Â And when a movement or group’s supporters are disrespected in such a way, any further backing can and will be tempered by resentment. Â It’s nothing less than natural.
As we await the Grand Jury’s decision on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer involved in the shooting, on any charge of any sort, and Ferguson itself grapples with wanting the whole thing to just go away and the wrecking of their community over what is at heart a local political issue that the rest of the world doesn’t quite understand, this kind of crap is going to continue. Â I just hope they leave the symphony alone. Â Some things are better left undisturbed.
One side note from a performance perspective: I also heard reports that the conductor for the weekend was not clear in his direction. Â That alone is enough to put a group on edge. Â Add the stress from an unexpected flash mob…and still I heard it was beautiful.