I started listening to classical music right after 9/11. Nothing else seemed to soothe my broken soul like Rachmaninoff or Mozart or even Tchaikovsky. No other music seemed to put things in perspective. I felt overwhelming sadness. I was in shock at the events I’d witnessed on TV and didn’t know what to do about them or where to turn to get things back on some type of even keel. I was reeling from a lot of things in my personal life at the time, and it seemed knowing that loss of life could occur on a massive scale just because you got up and went to work seemed categorically unfair. The realization that life could be altered in a matter of seconds and changed forever hit me hard. Children had lost a parent. Parents had lost children. The death toll was staggering. It was the devastatingly comprehensive low of all lows.
I remember the moment a friend mentioned to me how she dealt with the darkness that seemed to surround us all. She locked herself away in her bedroom and listened to William Grant Still. I thought she was slipping into major depression or maybe inching toward a full-blown mental blowout. But when my feelings of despair went on and on for days and then turned into a week, I decided to replace Pearl Jam with Mr. Still’s The American Scene and never looked back. The change in my mood didn’t come overnight. But slowly I began to develop an appreciation for the music and the composers who could get me out of my doldrums by their moving arrangements, their upbeat strings, and their evocative symphonies. Their music made me see a sliver of hope, a slip of silky color in the darkness around me. It made me wish that I’d known about the classics at other dark times in my life when I needed to be pulled out of my grief and into the light. If you haven’t discovered William Grant Still yet, I suggest you invest spending an evening with him and his American Scene. I guarantee you will not regret a moment of it.
No, I did not give up Springsteen or Pearl Jam or Nirvana forever, but for a time after 9/11, I realized I’d grown up somewhat in those moments as I watched the buildings topple and listened to the news about Flights 77 and 93. I’d finally left behind an innocence I could never get back. But at least I’d moved past the darkness. And for that, I thank those brilliant, genius composers who got me through it.