Student Orchestra Performs Musical Protest Against School Shootings, Saturday at Ohio Statehouse

Apr 12, 2018

The alarming escalation of school shootings in recent years has left our nation grieving for innocent lives lost and desperate to bring the bloodshed to an end. A student-led group of Ohio musicians is aiming to help end school shootings — not with political rhetoric, not from the bully pulpit, but instead with a day full of beautiful music.

About 50 musicians will perform a six-hour musical protest against school shootings from 10:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 14 at the Ohio Statehouse. 

Students from Kenyon College (Knox County), Muskingum University (Muskingum County), Marietta College (Washington County), and community members from those areas as well as Columbus (Franklin County) and Mt. Gilead (Morrow County), will give 27 performances of American composer Frank Ticheli’s An American Elegy, a work composed in memory of those who perished in the 1999 Columbine High School shootings and in honor of those who survived.

Six Hours of Non-Stop Music

There have been 25 fatal school shootings in the U.S. since Columbine. Leah Dunbar, a sophomore music major at Kenyon college and the student organizer of Saturday’s Ohio Statehouse “perform-in,” says the event will honor the victims of each of those shootings.

“We’re performing An American Elegy once for every one of those shootings,” Dunbar said in a phone interview. “Our plan is to perform the piece 26 times with a dedication before each saying which (shooting) that we’re dedicating that particular performance to.”

The music will begin Saturday at 10:15 a.m., when the first of four ensembles will start playing An American Elegy. Each performance of the piece takes about 11 minutes. Over the course of the day the four ensembles will rotate, until the final performance ends at 5 p.m.

“It’s going to take about six hours, but we’re hoping that it reflects on the amount of repetitions that have occurred and the amount of (fatal school) shootings that have occurred in the country,” Dunbar said

Ticheli himself noted in an email interview that Saturday will not be the first time since the Columbine shootings that his work will be performed in response to a fatal school shooting. 

"When I composed An American Elegy in response to the Columbine Shooting tragedy, I thought it would be a singular episode, or at least a rare one, in our nation's history," Ticheli wrote. "Sadly, I am constantly reminded how wrong I was. An American Elegy has been performed frequently in response to mass shootings occurring since Columbine. I had no idea that could ever happen. I am honored that my Elegy is being performed for the next shooting tragedy and the next, but sad about a cultural situation that makes it so."

Leah Dunbar, marimba, performing with the Knox County Symphony.
Credit Skip Trask / Leah Dunbar

No Piece More Perfect

Dunbar first learned of An American Elegy when she performed it with a high school orchestra. She also performed the piece last year at Kenyon College and says the work embodies both the sense of deep tragedy that the Columbine shootings – and now all school shootings – evoke, and also a sense of hope that the trend of school shootings can be stopped.

“The piece is absolutely beautiful,” Dunbar said. “It’s very touching. I think as we’re performing this type of event, I don’t think that that there’s a more perfect piece that we could have in it. Because even though we’re thinking about all of these terrible shootings that have occurred and continue to occur, we’re still holding onto that hope that there can be a change and we can make a difference in it. If there’s any piece that I’m going to listen to 26 times, I think it’s going to be this one.” 

Listen to Ticheli's An American Elegy performed by the Wilmington Symphonic Winds, Dr. John P. LaCognata conducting:

Music, Not Politics

Although Dunbar and the other the musicians who will play during Saturday’s perform-in are not part of any political organization, they are motivated by the desire to see the end of school shootings, and by the belief that music can move people’s hearts toward change.

“I want to be clear that we’re not a political group,” Dunbar said. “What we’re doing is political, but we’re not associated with a particular party or a particular stance — because we’re a group of musicians from a whole bunch of backgrounds, and we’re only really meeting for the first time on Saturday, many of us. But by performing this piece and performing it this repetitious amount of times, it kind of is a metaphor for the just awful repetition of shootings that have occurred. (We hope that), through music, having people realize and hopefully, through the music, feeling the emotion and power that this piece has, and realizing that something has to change.”

Dunbar says she’s not expecting Saturday’s event, in and of itself, to change the course of the nation. Still, she does hope that it will be one of perhaps many events nationwide that will help prevent future school shootings.

“I’m hoping that through our efforts and the efforts of other individuals doing similar or different protests across the nation that something changes to prevent any of these shootings ever occurring.” 

"The One We Hope We Never Have to Name"

Of course, it remains to be seen what other school shooting protests or other events or measures to prevent school shootings people might bring about around the country. That, too, is part of the message of Saturday’s perform-in. The event will conclude with the day’s 27th performance of An American Elegy, a performance that will leave the issue of school shootings squarely in our hands.

“Our last performance it going to be an unnamed performance of the piece, just kind of to leave the audience with, there’s been 26 shootings that have been named, and here’s this one that we hope we never have to name. But if something doesn’t change, this 27th performance is for that one.”

The perform-in will take place from 10:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 14 on the south lawn of the Statehouse or, in the event of bad weather, inside the Statehouse rotunda.