Thursday, January 30, 2014

Voices of the Oppressed

I am in the process of slowly reading Rebecca Rischin's For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet. I find myself deeply moved to think that such tremendous music could have possibly been produced in the midst of the tragedy of the Holocaust. I've never had the opportunity to perform any of the Quartet for the End of Time, but it is definitely on my bucket list.

Last week, the arts and humanities faculty at Mid-South Community College were challenged to brainstorm possible topics for inter-disciplinary courses that we might develop in the future. Since my mind was already dealing with the Holocaust, I immediately began to think of an appropriate way to work the Messiaen into a larger course for non-musician undergraduates. My thought was a course combining history, literature, music, and art that focuses on the oppressed.

At first, I thought the topic would be far too disturbing for most students. Then I began to realize that in many of these situations, the creative arts express a level of hope that exceeds the bounds of the victims' situations and looks to the freedom that is promised in the future. Many of the works are grounded in a common faith that there is a Higher Being at work in our lives. I was encouraged to think of the impact such a study might have on students who are facing personal difficulties in the Delta.

Which oppressed groups would we explore? That's still open for debate. From a musical perspective, I clearly thought of the spirituals of the American slave as well as the importance of music in the 20th century Civil Rights movement. Messiaen's quartet represents the music of the Holocaust as well as the piano solos of Gideon Klein. It would also be interesting to compare the music of South Africa during the days of Apartheid with the American Civil Rights songs, as well.

When you think of music of an oppressed people, what music comes to mind? I'd love to have your feedback and ideas.