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VOL. 127 | NO. 99 | Monday, May 21, 2012

A Time to Celebrate MSO’s Joyful Noise

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We are in the midst of a season of change in the sprawling musical landscape known as Memphis music.

Noting the death this month of band mate Donald “Duck” Dunn along with the recent deaths of Skip Pitts and Andrew Love, Booker T. Jones said on his Facebook page that “God is calling names in the music world. He gave us these treasures and now he is taking them back.”

The Memphis Symphony Orchestra, as noted in this week’s cover story, is in its own season of change with some departures for other cities and other orchestras.

But the symphony’s recent move into Memphis themes and some exciting collaborations with rapper Al Kapone as well as Midtown rockers Lucero under the Opus One series of concerts promises a stronger and revitalized music community.

Those collaborations and the MSO’s commitment to the classics, new composers and new venues are all reminders that this organization of 400 people is a bedrock for musical innovation.

The professional development plan being launched by the symphony promises to keep the symphony’s 60-year old foundation strong and emphasize the kind of collaboration that demonstrates the arts are not just a nice option to have after other priorities. They are and should remain a priority right alongside economic development and workforce development and education.

The MSO’s new mission statement is correct in talking about creating an experience in which the music is central and the setting varies in an attempt to take the music to places it hasn’t been before.

Musicians in our city have been ignoring racial and other arbitrary divisions for as long as melodies have found their ways over walls, through doors and into hearts. And they have suffered for that as well as their art as long as there has been a city of Memphis on the maps. Yet the music keeps coming and keeps moving through barriers.

Many of those barriers are gone as a result of the first cracks made by the music that has been created in this city.

For many Memphians, the first and most basic barrier was breached during what were the annual school field trip excursions to the old Auditorium where Vincent DeFrank led the orchestra in a classical music primer that filled the grand hall with dramatic and otherworldly sounds created in a harmony small faces could see at work before them.

Music reaches people in ways that words can’t on their own. It inspires and comforts. It humbles and reveals unexpected horizons. And today it is not tied to a single place or venue as it once was.

We have to call it Memphis music because that is the best way to begin to acknowledge just how broad it is and how many genres it covers.

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