Sunday, August 16, 2009

Musicians and World Conflict - Some Reflections

I have already written, at some length, about the power of music, especially as it pertains to historical realities; for example, the way that Hitler used martial music to help weld the community together in the rallies and the speeches, let alone the omnipresence of Wagner's music, engendering the combination of community and collective purpose Hitler so successfully utilized.
But what about the musicians themselves in times of conflict?
One of the best remembered examples of artists as intrinsic contributors of national identity as well as elemental contributors to morale boosting were the many musicians in America during World War II. I think of people like Bob Hope, whom most remember, of course, as a comedian having traveled thousands of miles to be with the troops, in places of great danger. Be reminded that he did a great deal of singing as well, and brought with him many well - known musicians to perform for the soldiers. He did the very same thing in the Korean conflict and the war in Vietnam.
And Glenn Miller, the fabled arranger and trombonist, who traveled all over the world with his band, entertaining untold thousands of soldiers with his truly immortal sounds, which are still popular today among pop and jazz enthusiasts.
And the final tragedy of Miller, who was shot down during the war.
The legend from the days of vaudeville, Al Jolson, also did his part to give the warrior some respite and comfort during those days in mid-century.
I could go on and on discussing these selfless artists, who gave so much of themselves countless times, and under truly dangerous conditions - at times, the sounds of gunfire and bombings could be heard during performances.
The most dramatic example I know of the artist giving of himself was in Soviet Russia during the height of the terrible experience of Hitler's invasion of Mother Russia.
It was on the tarmac of an airfield somewhere in the Soviet Union, with planes taking off and landing, and in the middle of it all was a grand piano having been brought in, and a very young Emil Gilels playing some of the great music of Russian composers - the combining of the din of war and exquisite sounds being created by a genius is something, perhaps, unique in the course of artistic endeavor.
For those of you who are research-oriented, that little bit of film exists - I have a copy of it.


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