Dirges With and Without Music

By Marci Janas '91

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned....
Down, down down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.


There was music at Oberlin on September 12.

Never before had such an elemental fact meant so much.

If we need our music now more than ever, we needed it fiercely then, some 30 hours after terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and in rural Pennsylvania tore our individual spirits and our collective sense of self in two jagged halves ­ innocence and awful experience.

The dirges with music offered that day at "A Gathering for Reflection: Words and Music," an all-campus convocation held in Finney Chapel, were performed by faculty members Haskell Thomson, David Boe, Antonio Pompa-Baldi, and the St. Petersburg String Quartet, which presented the second movement of Tchaikovsky's String Quartet no. 1, op. 11, a piece famous for having moved Tolstoy to tears.

With quiet understatement, six students from the College and the Conservatory presented dirges without music, reading poems by Denise Levertov, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Wislawa Szymborska, among others.

Said President Nancy Dye, in a moving address reprinted in Oberlin Reflections,* a booklet containing personal reactions of our alumni to the tragic events, "Our need for consolation will go on for some time."

Where are we to find solace?

In the days immediately following September 11, artists and arts critics considered this question, alongside theologians and political and cultural theorists. Dinitia Smith, writing in The New York Times, interviewed fiction writers about whether or not they were questioning the relevancy of their work in the face of such horror. Smith wrote: "Some authors revived that 19th-century aesthetic ­ somewhat out of favor these days ­ of art as a salutary, morally uplifting thing, somehow beneficial to the general health of man."

Turning the facet of the prism on music, and crafting his question from the stuff of hope, Alex Ross of The New Yorker asked: "What does music give us when words are stopped in our throats?"

Here is an answer to the question from some of the Oberlin Conservatory's alumni, faculty members, and students.

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