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Monday Musical Moment: Ave Maria

Good morning!

This past Saturday, the country marked a solemn occasion with the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Regardless of your experiences on that day, or the days and years that follow, most would agree that the world changed that day and that we are still living with the aftermath. As the 20th anniversary the attacks came and went, I couldn’t help but become more cognizant of the many challenges that we still face today in our world.

Leading up to the anniversary on Saturday, there were many documentaries and articles written in order to better put the ramifications of the day in perspective. There was a documentary that I watched last week on Netflix that I highly recommend called “Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror” that does an amazing job of chronicling the past 20 years and the impacts of decisions made in the aftermath. 20 years is a long time, and while watching the docuseries, I realized how much I have forgotten about that day. However, what I did remember clear as day was the feeling of togetherness that it brought. The trauma and grief felt by the country that day created a resounding, palpable, tangible love for one another that I have not felt since. On each anniversary that passes, I tend to remember most the tragic loss of life, but also try to appreciate the love shared between others. I also can’t help but think how wonderful our world would be if such a love were a daily practice rather than only in response to suffering.

In preparing for this week’s column, I naturally thought of the power of music to heal in hard times, but more specifically the power of prayer in music. One of my favorite pieces of music happens to be a prayer taken from the opera “Otello,” which was composed by Italian composer Guisseppe Verdi and premiered in 1887 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. The overall story of the opera, which is based on the Shakespeare play of the same name, is not religious but there is a beautiful setting of the traditional Ave Maria prayer text in the fourth act. Without giving away the plot too much, the title character, Otello, has been fooled into suspecting his wife Desdemona of being unfaithful and he tells her he will return in the morning to kill her (seems extreme…). In response, Desdemona sings a prayer to the Virgin Mary to save her soul before Otello returns to take her life. The “Amen” at the end of the aria is just heartbreakingly beautiful.

This particular performance is taken from the 2020 Christmas concert at the Frauenkirche in Dresden, a place that has a strong personal memory for me. As many of you know, I was living in Leipzig, Germany last Spring when the pandemic began. My mother, girlfriend Andreea, her parents, and I had just traveled from Leipzig to Dresden when European countries began quickly closing their borders. I remember like it was yesterday walking into the incredible beauty of the Frauenkirche and being overwhelmed by the dual realities of where we were and what was happening around us.

While we are still dealing with significant challenges, I believe there is still much comfort that can be found in music. I hope that this music brings you peace in uncertain times and can lighten your mental load, even if it is for a few minutes.

I hope everyone stays safe, healthy, and for the next few days, dry!

Justin

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