Evan Ware to premier symphony dedicated to survivors of sexual assault

Thursday, March 28, 2019 - 10:58am

Evan Ware

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In the wake of Hollywood’s powerful “Time’s Up” movement, the classical music world has begun to react to the “#MeToo” movement. Famous conductors and instrumentalists such as Charles Dutoit, James Levine and William Preucil have been accused of misconduct. Here at the University of Michigan, music professors David Daniels and Stephen Shipps have been accused of misconduct.

Few contemporary classical music composers, however, are willing to address this difficult subject. Enter Evan Ware, School of Music, Theatre & Dance alumni (PhD Theory and Composition class of 2015) and current Assistant Professor of Composition at Central Michigan University.

This coming Sunday, Ware’s “Symphony No. 2” will be premiered at Central Michigan University’s Staples Family Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m.. In an interview with The Daily, Ware spoke about his experiences with sexual violence, his attempts to process it through music, and his thoughts on the “#MeToo” movement in general.

Ware is remarkably comfortable retelling his story and explaining how it affected him. “I was abused from the ages of 8 to 10,” he said. “That had a fairly profound effect on my life in lots of ways … It’s hard to be in intimate relationships. (I’m) always wondering when the other shoe is going to drop. When people are going to ask something of (me) that (I’m) not actually willing to provide.”

Throughout his early career, Ware described treating his art as refuge from this abuse. During his doctoral studies, however, Ware decided to write a symphony about his experiences. This work, which eventually became Ware’s first symphony, dealt with the trauma male survivors frequently face in a society with rigid definitions of masculinity and masculine emotions.

For many men, “it’s about exacting violence and control on other people. That’s how you restore your manhood,” Ware explained. “It’s not about being vulnerable and accepting your pain and coming to a deeper understanding of who you are as a human being which is really the only way to heal.”

Ware has learned to forgive his abuser. In the years since the incident, he has never identified his abuser publicly. “I don’t hold anger against my abuser. That person was a kid. And I can’t fault them,” he said. “If you’re an adult? Well that’s a different thing. That’s an abuse of trust.”

As he sat down to write this second symphony, stories of abuse by the infamous doctor at Michigan State University first broke in the media. (At Ware’s request, we have refrained from naming this individual. As Ware explains it, we must move the conversation past “the infamy of the predator” to the “hundreds of survivors left behind.”)

“I was distressed by the sheer amount of people who were affected by the doctor,” Ware said. “I remember how dark and cold and difficult the world got in the years after my own abuse. And I thought to myself, ‘there’s hundreds of women (that) are about to go through this.’”

Ware’s second symphony is his attempt to try to speak to these victims; to tell them that others have experienced what they have experienced, and that they can get through it.

“A lot of the language that we have that surrounds these things are about being strong, undefeatable and unbreakable,” Ware said. “There are also moments when you’re not strong. And we shouldn’t be afraid of them because those moments ... are also a part of who you are. They’re as beautiful a part of who you are as anything else. And so I wanted to write a symphony that could be with people when they weren’t strong.”

Ware also spoke about the failure of institutions in many of these instances to protect young students against these abusers.

“They were not just betrayed by the doctor. They were betrayed by a university administration that callously ignored that this was going on,” Ware said. “On top of that, some of them their parents didn’t believe them.”

Though the “#MeToo” movement has changed the cultural conversation around sexual abuse, Ware cautioned that society still had a long way to go.

“It’s becoming more acceptable to report. But the defenses are all still the same: always blame the victim,” Ware said. “The conversation, I think, has changed in the circle of survivors. There’s less shame about it because it’s not your fault. You didn’t invite it. You didn’t do anything to ask for this … You were targeted by a predator.”

As the “#MeToo” movement moves forward, furthermore, Ware spoke of his fears about all those it is potentially leaving behind.

“In the broader sense, there’s a greater willingness to talk about it. People like Ronan Farrow are out there doing really good work,” Ware said. “I kind of worry that it’s (still) pretty delimited by class and race boundaries. It’s okay for (actors in) Hollywood to do this because they have the money to sustain (themselves). But there’s still the possible fallout if you're a kid from the projects who’s abused by your social worker. It’s a different story. They have a lot less power.”

As a survivor of sexual abuse, Ware described the inevitable struggle that one eventually faces as they work to come to grips with what they faced.

“Eventually you have to do the hard work of reconnecting. That means feeling pain and looking in places that scare you,” Ware said. “But there’s a great line ... that I inscribed in the opening page of my symphony. ‘We can see that there is something more important than what we fear … We are more important.’”