Opinion: Why the Tallahassee Symphony’s “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” matters

Posted on: March 27, 2019

“The last words of unarmed black men who were unnecessarily killed by police or authority figures isn’t the typical subject matter for classical music,” writes Jessica Langois in an opinion column in Sunday’s (3/24) Tallahassee Democrat (FL). “Joel Thompson’s ‘Seven Last Words of the Unarmed’ [is] a work of irresistible power, stunning for its beauty and its stealth…. Moved by Iranian artist Shirin Barghi’s #lastwords project, which illustrates … depictions of the last words of victims like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, Mr. Thompson wrote ‘Seven Last Words’ as a way to process his personal feelings about being a young black man in a country that doesn’t seem to care about his existence. He chose seven sets of last words as the text for his piece, arranging it into seven movements that purposefully parallel the text structure of Franz Joseph Haydn’s ‘Seven Last Words of Christ.’ The effect is radical empathy…. The Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra will give ‘Seven Last Words of the Unarmed’ its first performance by a professional orchestra next Sunday, in a program it is calling ‘An Ode to Understanding.’ … A language of empathy, classical music is more relevant now than ever…. Out of understanding comes change.”

Posted March 27, 2019