In remembrance of the victims of the nation's largest mass shooting last Sunday in Orlando, several hundred students, alumni, faculty and Ann Arbor community members packed Hill Auditorium for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. The event, titled “Requiem for Orlando,” drew a somber crowd to mourn the victims of the attack and their families and to stand in solidarity against the hatred behind the tragedy.
In a span of just 48 hours, Austin Stewart, a musicology graduate student at the University of Michigan, and Colin Knapp, a University alum who received his bachelor’s in music in 2014, enlisted nearly 200 volunteer singers and musicians to perform Mozart’s Requiem for the event.
Prior to the beginning of the performance, several guest speakers took the stage to pay their respects to the lives lost and to voice words of strength against social injustice and violence fueled by hate. Guest speakers included University President Mark Schlissel, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor, School of Music, Theatre & Dance Dean Aaron Dworkin and LGTBQ community icon Jim Toy.
Schlissel offered sympathy to all those hurt, directly and indirectly, by the tragic events that occurred last Sunday. He also mentioned the Ann Arbor’s community’s impressive ability to come together and show support in such a short notice.
“In the wake of such tragedy, it is heartening to know that we have the ability to come together as a community,” Schlissel said. “We are artists and activists, leaders and students, faculty, staff and community members.”
Schlissel finally noted the importance of upholding values in the aftermath of violence.
“We must remember that our differences are precious,” Schlissel said. “That those of all religions, ethnicities, beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities make us a complete community,”
Mayor Taylor offered advice on how to interpret Sunday’s violence, as well as how to move forward.
“It is our first instinct to view these killings as a senseless slaughter, and in one respect this surely is true,” he said. “The risk is in attributing too much cultural meaning to the actions of a solitary killer, for this amplifies and gives power to the despicable.”
Taylor took a distinctly pointed tone, condemning and calling for action on what he viewed as a lack of gun control, and also called for acceptance of the Muslim community. Taylor received two separate standing ovations from the crowd, though some members of the audience shook their heads in disagreement when Taylor condemned the role of guns in American society.
“I believe that what we can do is that we can live our lives. We can live our lives with a renewed commitment to speak out against and defeat the notion that a gun-riddled America is a safer America," Taylor said, as he was interrupted by spontaenous applause. "We must have a renewed commitment to live our lives with openness, pride and joy, to defend and affirm the full membership of our Muslim brothers and sisters in our communities large and small”.
Jim Toy, described by Taylor as an LGBTQ icon and community legend, concluded the speeches. Toy asked audience members to hold hands with one another and speak words of equality and peace.
Following the introductory speeches, the performance of Mozart’s Requiem commenced, performed by students and faculty from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, as well as local musicians. The ensemble, composed of 50 instrumentalists and 135 singers, was assembled with just 48 hours’ notice. The piece was conducted by Kevin Fitzgerald, a University alum who received his master’s degree in orchestral conducting in 2015.
In his speech, Taylor commented that the piece was fitting for the occasion.
“It is a very appropriate work. Mozart’s Requiem is famously unfinished, much like the lives of those lost in Orlando,” he said.
The performance was concluded with a moment of silence to respect the lives recently lost. This was followed by a series of prayers and words of faith given by community members. The group of prayer leaders included observers of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Before the doors to the performance opened, a small group of gun control activists bore signs in front of the auditorium. A group of five volunteers held orange signs that read “Moms Against Guns.”
The demonstrators came from a grassroots volunteer branch of the national organization Everytown for Gun Safety. Rosalie Wright, the leader of the group, talked about how they are trying to spread the word about gun safety and bring people together to create a unified front.
“If enough people engage in an organized way, then something can happen legislatively, in terms of law, awareness, gun safety for children,” Wright said. “We are going at it on all fronts.”
The group was asking people to sign a petition in support of increased gun control legislation upon entering Hill Auditorium. According to Wright, they had “pages and pages” of signatures.
Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Bailey McMillian said she found the performance and overall event to be beautiful. She said the outcome of such an incredible event put on in such a short notice represents the Ann Arbor and University communities.
“The fact that we showed up here at 7:35 p.m. and there was a huge crowd already waiting to get in was incredible,” McMillian said. “This is what I wanted U-M to be, this is what I thought it would be and what Ann Arbor would be and this is exactly what it is.”
Don Lyons, a recent LSA graduate, had a similar reaction to the event. He particularly appreciated the religious diversity expressed during the introductory speeches and the concluding period of prayer.
“I thought it was a really beautiful performance,” he said. “I thought that it was especially great to have so many voices, difference voices of faith. It was great to hear voices that came from people of faith and those who are secular.”
Jeff Ellison, one of the choir singers and a member of University Musical Society Choral Union, said he and the members of the organization were contacted by e-mail and asked if they would be willing to volunteer their voices to the show. He said the crowd that showed up was incredible.
“It was heartwarming to see such a nice group turn out, and to feel the energy in the room was just fantastic,” Ellison said. “This was a time of mourning and everybody came with that idea, but everybody also came with the idea that love is the way forward.”