The Mystical Power of Music

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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