Playing Music For the Leaves at Auschwitz17th April 2012
My son, Daniel, 10, plays the saxophone in the band at Searingtown Elementary School in Albertson, NY. He was selected to be in the chamber group, where the band and orchestra will be playing together. One of the pieces they will be playing is “Nimrod.”
The day after the Passover/Easter break began, Mr. Stevens, Daniel’s band teacher, sent a two-part email to the students and parents. The first part was a home study guide encouraging and guiding the kids on how to play the piece.
Below is the second part of the email sent by Mr. David Stevens:
…Now for an “all about me” story as it relates to this piece and WHY it means so much to me and WHY it should mean so much to ALL OF US.
During the Summer of 2010, my family escorted the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra on their eastern European tour. Both my children played (Mikey age 11, horn and Leah age 14, flute). We performed at beautiful locations in Salzburg, Budapest, Czech Republic, and even the mountain village of Zakopane, Poland. The audiences we played for were very receptive and at times we felt like rock stars; it was truly special. But one performance we did was so unforgettable it will stick in my heart and my throat forever.
You see, we took a tour of an infamous WWII concentration camp in Poland called “Auschwitz.” It was at this place that over 65 years ago, over a million innocent people were put to death. Families like ours were taken from their homes, their daily lives, from all over Europe, and put on trains that after days of travel, dropped them off at this awful place, the last place that they would ever see.
Well, we toured this dreadful place on a still overcast day. Our tour guide was a man who lives in your very neighborhood of Herricks – Irving Roth, a Holocaust survivor. Yes, he was taken to Auschwitz as a child and survived the ordeal to tell his horrific story.
After seeing the cells and other horrible things, we set up our orchestra at the memorial that was at the very end of the railroad tracks that delivered so many to their final destination.
The day was still and overcast and we performed some works but what will stick with me forever is when we performed Nimrod. We had no audience, we simply sat in chairs set up like an orchestra at the very end of these railroad tracks and played for nobody. Or nobody we could actually see.
On either end of this memorial were many many birch trees. They were planted very well spaced and evenly throughout, almost looking like 50+ foot tall soldiers at attention and completely still as they looked over the memorial and the entire camp.
We played Nimrod with a grief and sadness that had been building up over the past 3 hour tour. As the orchestra faded into silence and Nimrod ended, and the conductor dropped his arms, there were no hands clapping, but many of the children, mine included, began to weep in the silence. Then suddenly, a breeze whipped through those birch trees at exactly the time a real applause would happen. The leaves (over a million?) rattled together in the breeze creating a loud racket. It lasted as long as an applause for a beautiful performance would last, and without saying a word, we all felt that we had played for over one million lost innocent souls floating over this dreadful place looking for their real home. We shared a mystical, out-this-world experience and none of us will ever be the same.
It was at this moment I knew that the power of music needs to be shared with everyone and that is why I share this story with you. I hope that you can find the meaning of this piece for your own lives and that you can perform it in a way that will move people seen and people unseen.
Wow, that was so hard to write, but I’m glad I did. Thank you for your hard work and PLEASE LISTEN TO NIMROD at LEAST 5 times over break.
Enjoy your holiday and please don’t be a stranger to your instrument – it truly is a portal to your soul, your spirit, your dreams, your happiness.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is Thursday, April 19, 2012. This blog post is in memory of my husband’s uncle, Arnold – a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and the Madjanek, Auschwitz, and Buchenwald concentration camps – and the millions of Jews who did not survive the Holocaust, and those who lived to tell the world about the worst atrocity in all mankind.