“AMONG THESE ARE LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS” There were no fireworks or moving speeches but there were a few original works and classical movements. There were no marching bands or patriotic songs, but there was a chamber orchestra and a soaring aria or two. There was no Thomas Jefferson or a hot Philadelphia afternoon in 1776, but there was Mohammad Amin Sharifi and a hot Memphis afternoon in 2013.
Last week at the Belvedere Chamber Music Festival you could hear a bit of what freedom sounds like. The notes that filled the nave at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the notes that commanded the considerable skills of the musicians present and suspended time for their audience, came from a world away that must have its way. They were the product of an unbridled imagination that is, in fact, more than bridled. The sound they make should know no boundaries but, in fact, comes from a place where freedom of expression knows no release.
Those notes were free here in Memphis.
The festival has been running an international competition since 2007 for student composers. If accepted, the requirement is travel to Memphis to receive the recognition and for the recording of the performance of the work. Quintet No. 1, “Lamentoso,” came from Iran via email and caught the eye and ear of festival and Luna Nova Music Director, Patricia Gray.
Travel here was impossible but WKNO’s Darel Snodgrass and William Langley, U of M student and conductor of the Memphis Repertory Orchestra, worked with Patricia and the composer in cyberspace to record and stream the piece to us, to him, and to the world.
Mohammad Amin Sharifi has a Muslim name – and none of us can be judged for that. He can. He is creative, individualistic, artistic – and he is a 20-year-old Iranian. None of us can know the challenge of those contradictions. We can say and do and feel those things that shape and move us and share them as we are able and inspired. He cannot.
We have the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and – and here’s the Fourth of July moment – so does he.
If you believe the words of Thomas Jefferson, those are not just the rights of Americans, but the rights of mankind, and the declaration of that is not just an angry letter to King George but a reference for the world as to what everyone has a right to, should strive for, and should accept nothing less.
The Declaration of Independence isn’t the Constitution that governs us; it’s the thing that gives us our reason for being and the thing that’s served as the model of independence for well more than two centuries.
If we think that it applies only within our borders, its tenets only applicable here, its benefits only ours, then we are no better than Iran, our pronouncements and righteous indignation no more valid.
I’m a Memphian, and thanks to other Memphians, there’s a 20-year-old student in Tehran that believes in the Fourth of July.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at email@example.com.