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Saturday Art: The Skies Are Weeping for Rachel Corrie on the Ninth Anniversary of Her Death

I. On March 16, 2003, Near the southeast border of Gaza, Evergreen College senior Rachel Corrie was run over by an Israeli Army bulldozer, and killed.  Four days later the United States invaded Iraq.

Soon after the war started, I decided that I would write an anti-war musical composition, centered around Corrie.  After sharing my proposed lyrics with her family, I got their permission to go ahead.  Six months later, The Skies Are Weeping was complete, and we were beginning to rehearse the work for soprano, small chorus and percussion ensemble with the University of Alaska Anchorage’s percussion group.

In the lead-up up to a public meeting about the work’s perceived anti-Israeli content, I became the subject of an incredibly intense on-line attack, peaking on April 7th through 10th, 2004, at hundreds of hostile e-mails per hour.  By the time the meeting was held, co-hosted by an Anchorage rabbi, I had decided that I couldn’t expose the kids in the percussion group or choir to the same vituperation and beyond that I was experiencing and being threatened with.

I cancelled the Anchorage premiere.

As word got out, 24 groups or individuals worldwide asked for copies of the score (the music the conductor uses) and MP-3 MIDI audio.  I sent the material out, and got 17 responses.  I followed through on the few with promise.  First choice was a group in Brooklyn, who eventually decided to drop the project.  Funding from generous donors might suffer, it was thought.  A small group in Toronto was seriously interested, but I was leery of their agenda, and backed away.

Eventually, I became convinced by London-based soprano and peace activist, Deborah Fink, to go with a London production sponsored mostly by Jews for Justice for Palestinians, as a benefit for Israeli and Palestinian progressive groups.

We were able to present The Skies Are Weeping on November 1, 2005, as part of a concert featuring other works about the conflict in Palestine.

I flew from Alaska to the UK to help with rehearsals, and my wife came over and joined me a few days before the performance.  Our hosts were so outgoing, energetic and positive about the concert project.

Craig and Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s parents were there, along with Jocelyn Hurndall. She is the mother of Tom Hurndall, another peace activist killed by the IDF in Gaza that spring.  Jocelyn and I held hands as the group played the memorial dance I had written for her young son.

We wanted to create a professional recording of the concert, perhaps to make a fundraising CD.  But the singers’ union needed a lot of money if they were to allow us to do that.  We preferred to use that money on the charities the concert supported.

So I recorded The Skies Are Weeping with a portable digital recorder that I set on the concrete floor beneath my front row seat.  Right below the choir.

Wednesday and Thursday I created a Youtube of The Skies Are Weeping’s London audio recording.  It includes all the lyrics, and occasional photographic comments on the content of the music.

Although some of the seven movements of The Skies … have been played since 2005, this is the only complete performance.  I’ve been asked about doing it again several times.  It is hard, painful to mount this composition.  I’ve re-orchestrated two movements for soloist, chorus and orchestra, but haven’t figured out how to finish what will be almost a new work.  Again, Rachel Corrie will be a central part of it, but in a deeper way, given the perspective of nine years.

II. Performances of art about Rachel Corrie were fought back against from the very beginning.  The most well-known cases involved Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner’s play based on Rachel Corrie’s emails and journals, My Name is Rachel Corrie.  Much effort was made when the play came out to keep it from even being produced.

The threats did not work.

I just googled images of posters of My Name is Rachel Corrie.  The play, a winner of many awards over the years, is in production somewhere, almost all the time.  In English, Spanish, Dutch, German, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, and other languages. If you go to the google link above and click on a poster picture for an enlargement, you are usually directed to an article that is where the poster image was published online.

One thing that has been fascinating throughout the saga of the play has been the way most theater groups have used its production to hold pre-play or post-play discussions and forums to give the monodrama “context.”  I’ve heard, though not read in publication, that some of these groups have resulted in positive outcomes, sometimes unforeseen, where huge gulfs or big bridges of misunderstanding were crossed.

This is a good thing, and is part of Corrie’s legacy.

Both Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall have inspired the creation of foundations promoting aspects of peace and justice worldwide.  I trust that over the coming years. both of these courageous young people will continue to inspire artists and others.

III. Here is the Youtube I finished Thursday, of The Skies Are Weeping. It is almost 36 minutes long, so – pull up a chair:

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Alaska progressive activist, notorious composer and firedoglake devotee.