Writers aren't ordinarily at a loss for words, but these are not ordinary times. Watching Lincoln Center's Sunday evening "Memorial For Us All" performances with my family has left us speechless. So many names, so many gifts, so much love and loss.
New York's experience of COVID-19 isn't like anyplace else's, nor has our response been. When it became impossible to gather together to mourn the community's losses, an interfaith collaboration with religious leaders, musicians, Lincoln Center, and the public became a weekly secular service, with music as its healing homily.
Wynton Marsalis, co-founder and artistic director for Jazz at Lincoln Center joined virtually with 15 other musicians to perform the inaugural "Memorial For Us All" with New Orleans style jazz that was both somber and uplifting, as names of some of those who've died during this pandemic appeared onscreen.
"Serving a need in our city was the driving force behind 'Memorial For Us All,'" explained Leah Johnson, Lincoln Center's executive vice president. "Families and friends are unable to have proper funerals during this time. It has radically altered how we're able to process grief and honor those who have passed away. Together with our interfaith partners, led by Rev. Dr. Chloe Breyer of The Interfaith Center of New York, we started thinking of ways to create community around remembrance and a virtual space where those who have been lost could be remembered." Also participating are the New York Disaster Interfaith Services, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, The Center for Faith and Community Partnerships, The New York Board of Rabbis, the Union Theological Seminary, the Mayor's office, and Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Wynton Marsalis performed on May 3rd. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who's been sharing music with the world via social media with the hashtag #SongsOfComfort, performed on May 10th. "We're feeling very isolated from each other, but no one is alone," said baritone Norm Lewis, before he sang "No One is Alone," "We Live on Borrowed Time," and "Bring Him Home," on May 17th. Actress/singer Kelli O’Hara performed on May 24th, and opera singer Ailyn Pérez will present the memorial on May 31st. Future memorials are planned for each Sunday at 6 p.m. They can be live streamed on Lincoln Center's website, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube pages, where they remain online to be viewed later. The public is invited to submit names they'd like to see remembered in future presentations.
"The arts help us understand ourselves and one another," said Johnson. "Now more than ever in the midst of this pandemic, the arts play a vital role in helping us build empathy, create community and connect with one another. This is critical here in our city and around the world. Regardless of belief systems, music is intertwined with so many forms of remembrance. We hope "Memorial For Us All" can provide a weekly moment of remembrance, unity, and comfort."
The names of more than 1,400 people have been broadcast and remembered. Sadly, the list keeps getting longer, but the music will keep playing. While Wynton Marsalis and musicians sang "Oh! Didn't He Ramble," the lyrics appeared on screen, so that all could join in, lifting voices in mournful, joyful, hopeful, respectful, soothing, songs of remembrance. We're isolated, but in this together.
To see the concerts:
"The arts help us understand ourselves and one another ... This is critical here in our city and around the world." Leah Johnson, Lincoln Center's executive vice president