Everywhere we turn this week, we arereminded of the looming anniversary: 9/11, ten years later. Observances take the form of everything from musical performances at Trinity Church, just steps from Ground Zero, to a sculpture of first responders created with 180 tons of sand at the New York State Fair.
The scattered array of events and memorials, public and private, underscores that even now, a decade on, we still aren’t sure how to best recognize a day unlike anything we had ever experienced. What should we do to commemorate it? Should we commemorate it at all? (My electronic calendar notes that September 11 is Patriot Day, but who calls it that?)
The arts community has grappled with the same questions. There’s no shortage of events to commemorate this significant anniversary, and no shortage of works to consider—from music to books to film to dances to art installations. For a decade, artists of every genre have attempted to explore the emotional scars or potential meanings of the day, but for the most part they have seemed to react more than adequately reflect upon the time. As a nation we are still ambivalent over how much we want to revisit the sights and sounds of a horrific day that were captured in real time, then played on an endless loop until seared into memory.
In some ways, we haven’t traveled so far from September 12, 2001. I went to work in Manhattan that day, not knowing what else to do, really (boarding the A train at 14th Street to see the car plastered with ads for a local college, featuring a smiling student sitting on the World Trade Center plaza, the towers in the background as a symbol of success). I was managing editor of Symphony magazine at the time and spent the day trying hard not to look at the grim news photos, by gathering stories of how musicians around the country were responding with performances and aid drives. I had a folder stuffed full by the end of the week. It may still be to early to fully comprehend how or if the events of 9/11 and their aftermath changed the arts or society. But looking back at the subsequent piece I compiled for the magazine, it’s evident how even at the very moment, artists were striving to find both solace and meaning in an overwhelming event.
Finding Comfort in Music (Symphony Magazine, N/D 2001)