While Hope Remains: Envisioning the music

A Composer’s Response to 9/11

While-Hope-OrchWinter didn’t need to come this year; New York was already bleak under October’s continuing cloudless sky. Not waiting for snow, we were waiting for smallpox, for nuclear clutter, for plagues we’d only read about in history and in cattle.

Our shared world suffused with recurrent panic, dread and disillusionment; my interior world had been strangely silent for a month. No music inside me, and any music outside found no resonance within.

Ice sculpture commemorating firefighters of 9/11

Ice sculpture commemorating firefighters of 9/11

On yet another eerie, balmy night, I was on my way to Merkin Hall to hear a friend’s recital. But I took a wrong bus and got off at a wrong, far too far along, bus stop. The most familiar paths had become labyrinthine that month; and time seemed out of sync as well. I was ridiculously early.

So I strolled across the West 60’s toward Lincoln Center and saw something I had never noticed. Something good: a coffee shop, no tablecloths, near Lincoln Center. Wow, I thought, cheap food here!

I stopped to read the menu in the window. But it wasn’t a menu; it was a memo written two days after the Towers had gone down. When all the men but one who had answered the call had vanished into the inferno with 332 other firefighters, the memo was written by the Captain to his remaining men, their families and the larger community. It’s eloquence spoke to the soul. Suffused with its song, I went to visit that Firehouse to ask permission to set the memo to music. Captain Gormley and the men were touched and responded with mournful enthusiasm to the prospect of such a project.

Of the 9th Battalion, Engine Company 40 and Ladder 35, only one of the men who responded to the World Trade Center alarms on September 11th, 2001 ever returned. Beyond the sprawling shrine in front of the Firehouse, the house sheltered the remaining men, tears floating in their eyes.

On the windshield of the fire truck and on the office window, copies of the traditional Firefighter’s Prayer were glued. The House seemed steeped in the awful irony of the answered prayer, the grief of the bereaved Firefighters, and the palpable absence of their brothers.

Firefighter’s Prayer

While Hope Remains