The performing arts are about community. Orchestral performance, in particular, is about a large community, the audience, sharing a sensory and emotional experience, due to the collective efforts and artistry of a smaller community of performers on stage.
The times we find ourselves in now are, antithetically, about fractured community, and isolation. The pandemic, combined with social unrest caused by the unmasking of deep divisions and systemic problems in the way we treat each other as human beings and as Americans, has made us fearful of each other, distrustful of each other, angry at one another.
At many points in my quarter century as conductor of the Boston Pops, I have been grateful for music’s ability to bring people back together. After the events of September 11, the Boston Marathon bombings, and moments of economic uncertainty and political upheaval, I have marveled at music’s ability to unite us — to celebrate our commonalities and to urge us to be courageous in confronting our challenges. That is part of the responsibility of being an artist, and also its greatest reward. More than anything, right now I feel the need to step onto the stage on the Esplanade, and join with my colleagues and millions of Americans in celebrating what our country can be, looking squarely at the flaws, and leaving with a renewed sense of commitment to what can and should be. I can’t tell you how much I want to be there.
Until I can be there, I’m grateful for the efforts of my colleagues, friends, and fellow performers to keep the music playing. When I watched the Pops’ Summon the Heroes video, I was overwhelmed not so much by the finished product as by the efforts and abilities of so many artists, all working in isolation. I’m grateful for all the performers — the world-famous and the unknown — who have bared their souls for the camera, so that their virtual audience can feel at least some of music’s power to connect us. To watch Yo-Yo Ma play solo Bach to an empty room is to see art as individual communication, at its purest and most vulnerable.
I’m grateful to the casts of shuttered Broadway shows, who have stitched together powerful performances of powerful songs. I’m grateful to every director of a community chorus or high school band who is doggedly determined to keep the music playing, even if only virtually. And I’m grateful to the skillful editors and technicians who turn these individual efforts into a collective success, and the technology that allows for it. They are still not in any way the real thing, but virtual performances remind us of just how much we are missing.
Keith Lockhart is the conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra. Join Keith and the Pops for the pre-recorded, A Boston Pops Salute to our Heroes, July 4th at 8:00pm on Bloomberg TV and Radio and simulcast on WHDH TV.