The Mystical Power of Music

Reflections on Hearing Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3, "Sorrowful Songs" on September 11, 2001

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ten years ago on September 11, I was on the air here at WQXR from 7 p.m. until midnight. I had been called in at the last minute to cover for my colleague, June LeBell, who had been evacuated from Battery Park City to New Jersey earlier in the day. As I walked to the station that night, I remember how absolutely lost I felt. "What should I say? What should I do? How can we help?" It seemed so illogical to be playing music while television and radio stations all over the city were trying desperately to explain what had happened and to advise us about what to do next.

But rather than filling the airwaves with news updates and emergency information, that night WQXR let the music do the talking... the advising... the comforting. The next day, there was a flood of e-mails the likes of which we had never experienced before: e-mails from listeners who were extremely grateful for the chance to escape the unending replays of the events of the day, to reflect quietly on what it all meant for the future and to feel the impact together in a very meaningful way. 

9/11 reminded me just how powerful music can be... how it can provide answers when words are not enough... how it can unite us with a mystical thread that knows no boundaries. I don't remember every piece that was played that night, but I do remember Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3, "Sorrowful Songs."

It's remarkable to think that the three songs in the symphony –– a 15th century Polish lament of Mary, Mother of Jesus; a message written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during WWII; and a folk song of a mother searching for her son killed in the Silesian uprisings –– spanned six centuries and could still resonate so harmoniously and speak so perfectly to the human condition, especially in the wake of such a shocking and incomprehensible tragedy.

Do you remember listening to any music on the day of the attacks themselves? Leave your recollections in a comment below.

→ Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3, "Sorrowful Songs," is Available on Arkiv Music


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Comments [3]

June LeBell from Sarasota, FL

Midge - - Not only had I not seen this until tonight, I don't think I knew you sat in for me the night of 9/11. Everything was, of course, in turmoil and I was in the gym of a closed army base in Bayonne, NJ, away from WQXR, friends, family and anyone I knew. When I finally got back to the "world," I heard that we'd been playing music, rather than trying to explain what had happened and I was, and still am, eternally proud of "my" station for making that decision. Now, living in Sarasota, FL, I - like the rest of the world - look back 10 years with a mixture of grief and horror, but also with gratitude to my colleagues and listeners whose support and love carried me to a new and very wonderful life. I'm not sure I said it before but, to anyone reading this - - THANK YOU.
June LeBell

Sep. 08 2011 10:28 PM
Christine Corso from Cedar Grove, NJ

Dear Midge,

I remember listening to Gregg Whiteside and Steve Powers report what was happening that morning.

When my children ask me to recount memories of that day, I tell them one of my strongest: Gregg Whiteside saying that he was playing Bach so that there could be some order when all else was confusion.

Thanks to you and all at QXR who offered such comfort through music that day and the days that followed.

Aug. 25 2011 01:22 PM

Reading this essay, I'm all the happier to have met you recently during your show at the studios, Midge.

As WQXR and WNYC and the mighty Q2 gather in so many sounds and fears and ideas for us around 911, your perspective makes it a little easier to recall, a little less awful to reflect.

You're right, music helped get us through it once, and will again.

Thanks for this.

Aug. 24 2011 02:52 PM

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