The Fairy Princess does not often write on this blog about her Family – probably because they do not share her devotion to Musical Theater, and let’s face it – that is not so different from the general population, no matter how many movie musicals Meryl Streep is going to appear in.
On a day to day basis, her Family is not the subject of her blog, nor do they read it. Her family will cheerfully tell you that they have no idea what TFP writes about but it is ‘nice’ she is expressing herself.
However, TFP‘s sister, Shauna Quill and the organization she runs, The New York Youth Symphony has been in the news this last week, and frankly, TFP is getting tired of reading rants about ‘creative freedom‘ on the social media, so she is going to share her own opinion on this situation.
Please note – the NYYS does not know that TFP is going to write this piece, they would not endorse it even if they did know – which, again, they do NOT, and they probably would be horrified by the Drag Queen Memes if they did – but NO ONE IS TAKING AWAY TFP’S DRAG QUEENS!
So…this is what happened this last week – my Sister and her Staff were informed that a Composer who had won a contest (by winning that contest he won the opportunity to have the NYYS premiere his work) by the name of Jonas Tarm had inserted into his piece, wait for it – the Nazi Anthem.
Did TFP just say “Nazi Anthem“?
Why yes, she did.
Now TFP has never heard the Horst Wessel Lied aka Nazi Anthem, and many of her generation have not…and in fact, it has been banned in other countries, but anyway, here it is with subtitles.
TFP does not know which part of the Horst Wessel Lied spoke most to Mr. Tarm because she has not heard his piece…maybe it was the the part where they sing “Millions are looking on the swastika full of hope“, or that bit about “Soon Hitler’s banners will fly all over the streets”?
We may never know.
The artistic process is difficult to understand in some individuals.
Perhaps he did try and think of something else, but as we all know -it is hard, once a melody gets into ones head, to change it to something else.
And then there are the times, you know, when a song has a meaning attached to it for you, and then, well….then you can NEVER get it out of your head, right? No matter how hard you try.
Like if, for example, you had heard a song over and over again when you were being persecuted and watching your family being slaughtered around you….like someone who survived The Holocaust?
It might be a really hard to get a song like that out of your head.
In fact, the Horst Wessel song itself was used as part of what is called “Sonic Torture” – playing music over and over again to break the spirit of those who were in concentration camps.
Thus one can imagine the instant recognition that an unsuspecting survivor of the Holocaust might have had when seated to enjoy a Symphony Concert… given by children….upon hearing that melody played.
The fact that that survivor did not jump up and run instantly up to the Conductor and start beating him with a heavy object is a lesson in dignity we can all learn from. Instead, this person waited until the concert had ended, and wrote a letter to the New York Youth Symphony informing them that they were playing the Nazi Anthem.
Which, TFP is fairly certain, made those running the NYYS resemble a very famous painting…
Because you see, NYYS had not been informed by Mr. Tarm that he was referencing that piece in his work. Nor did he tell them that not only was he including the Nazi Athem, he was also throwing in the anthem of the U.S.S.R.!
In fact, he gave them no program notes, no explanations, just this quote from famed Anti-Semite, Poet T.S. Elliott:
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the shadow
Not only did he insert the Nazi Anthem, he hid the fact that this was a part of his composition when he was initially given a chance to share it with the Orchestra, who range in age from 12-22.
TFP only knows this because she did an interweb search on Mr. Tarm and she found this post written by a student of the orchestra.
For those who do not want to click the link, here is an excerpt from that Reddit post:
We started rehearsing Tarm’s piece a few months ago. A few weeks after we started, he showed up to a rehearsal. Our conductor asked Tarm to introduce the piece; this is a rather standard procedure. Past composers, such as Cindy Giron and Conrad Winslow (a wonderful composer!), have discussed their pieces with the orchestra. Sometimes composers say much; other times, little.
Tarm, given this opportunity, chose the latter. He told us that the piece could be about absolutely anything, as long as it was meaningful to us. Pokemon and eastern philosophy were then cited as examples.
Please wrap your mind around this: the work cited music from the USSR and Nazis, music that foreshadowed the deaths of millions… yet he cited POKEMON?!?!? In retrospect, this was absolutely absurd of Tarm. How deeply irresponsible of him to fail to provide any context.
That was the entirety of what we heard from Tarm on the content of his piece. We continued working (quite hard, I might add) on Tarm’s piece. Many of us began to love the piece – it’s very well written. My personal favorite part was the eerie bassoon solo, heard over a cello solo similar to the opening of the Lutoskawski concerto. As it would turn out, the bassoon solo quoted Horst-Wessel.
The bottom line is that Tarm was not candid with us regarding the contents of the piece. Sure, he might claim that the music should speak for itself, but not when using the Horst Wessel anthem! No one in the orchestra (or administration, for that matter) advocates censorship… but young musicians should not be forced to play a Nazi anthem without prior explanation. Forget explanation – Tarm should have at least acknowledged the citation from the very start!
(Now, interestingly enough, this vocalist is a friend of TFP‘s, his name is Jason Paige and he is incredibly talented, and, in point of fact, Jewish. Thus TFP is fairly certain that he would be a bit put out to think that his wonderful vocals on a video game would be used as an example of what to think of when the Nazi Anthem was being played by 12 -22 year olds, just making a guess.)
Back to the New York Youth Symphony – now, they are a pretty prestigious organization and they take great pride in commissioning works by young composers. They have commissioned 137 works by young composers and they have never had an issue like this, because, as that student pointed out (and TFP suggests you go to that Redditt site and read the comments back and forth because this student is pretty damn brilliant) most of the composers come and talk to the kids, and they also provide program notes.
We, in the biz like to call that ‘context’.
Because just about any kind of artistic work can be done, provided you give the audience and the players information that they need to make an informed decision about what is going to happen during a piece that they paid for.
Whips and Chains? Making millions at the box office because it is a ‘love story’. That’s America – we can wrap our heads around just about anything as long as we are given context.
Now, upon receipt of the letter sent by the Holocaust Survivor, NYYS did not immediately cancel his Carnegie Hall premiere. They did not. They have worked with composers and artists for a long time, and they knew, as Educators, that things that some find distasteful can be ‘learning moments’, and they have always stood by their Artists before, what they wanted was clarity and an explanation.
Mr. Tarm was called by different staff members of the NYYS and he repeatedly refused to give context.
He did not deny that he had lifted music from another composer without giving credit. He just said that the work spoke for itself.
The work that was not all his work that he submitted as his work? Yeah, that work.
What is that ‘thing’ when you claim to write something that someone else has written and you do not cite them?
It’s that word that begins with a “P” and that people can be sued for?
That thing you can totally get kicked out of Oprah’s book club for?
In the opinion of The Fairy Princess, and this is truly the opinion of The Fairy Princess, no employee, student or fan of NYYS has said this to her, but in her opinion?
In her opinion, as someone who educates and teaches on the University level (oh yeah, TFP doesn’t just blog) if you do not cite your sources, and you take credit for another person’s work – it’s plagiarism.
TFP does not give merit to arguments about “artistic freedom’ when it is based on a lie. The lie being that this was an original composition. Music – classical and pop – is littered with ‘odes’ and ‘variations‘, ‘tributes‘ and ‘inspired by‘s ” – and as long as it is cited, everyone is good. Citing gives context.
Not citing? Deliberately refusing to provide background on a piece that you are expecting 12 year old musicians to play at Carnegie Hall? That is not ‘artistic license’, that is someone trying to ‘pull one over’ on the NYYS, in TFP‘s opinion.
Or are we forgetting that Robin Thicke is in court over this very same issue? Did not Sam Smith just agree to hand over royalties to Tom Petty over this exact same situation? Yeah, he did. Because musicians are not supposed to steal from one another.
In TFP‘s opinion, NYYS could not present a work at Carnegie Hall that had elements of plagiarism, it seems that simple to her.
In TFP‘s opinion, she does not know what the big issue is, because, Mr. Tarm did win a world premiere from the New York Youth Symphony, they just chose not to play it at Carnegie Hall. It had already been premiered.
Just because one commissions a work does not mean it has to be played – that is like saying just because one purchases a gym membership, one is going to exercise. It’s like buying a painting and then deciding it does not work with your decor, so you put it in the closet. It is like saying just because one pays for a dinner, one is entitled to have sex with the person who shared the meal.
TFP does not see that Mr. Tarm’s civil rights have been violated – nor does she believe his Artistic ability to express himself has been tampered with – if it had, he would not have been able to give this interview, or to talk to The Wall St. Journal, or to The New York Times.
If anything, the internet is ‘abuzz’ with Jonas Tarm, which makes TFP wonder if that was the actual point of including the Nazi and U.S.S.R. anthems in his piece?
Because had anyone heard of him prior to this controversy?
Look, this is an organization that is run by TFP‘s Sister, and it would be silly not to acknowledge that – but the issue for TFP is the stealing..and the lying. And the lying that you stole. Stealing someone else’s composition, even for 45 seconds, is not acceptable.
All he had to do was give program notes and provide context – that was it.
But he would not do that, he would prefer that 12+ year old children stand on stage, on one of New York City’s premiere stages, and smile and bow after unknowingly playing the Nazi Anthem – and that is, as an Educator, and as a Parent, to TFP, completely unacceptable.
The people in this scholarship orchestra are kids under the age of 23, who are trying to do exciting things, premiering works that no one has heard before -they are trying to live their lives with classical music as a large part of it and Mr. Tarm set them up for ridicule and censorship by his actions.
Would they have played it if they had had more information about his intentions and the source material? Very likely – but don’t take TFP’s word for it:
NYYS Statement on Removal of Commissioned Orchestral Work
The New York Youth Symphony’s decision to remove a commissioned work from Sunday’s performance was not a decision taken lightly. It was a highly unusual step for us—one which was taken thoughtfully, but firmly, as soon as we learned the piece incorporated significant portions of music written by others that we determined were problematic for a student orchestra such as ours to be asked to perform without prior knowledge or discussion.
The first time the composer revealed the source of his music was on March 2, in response to our inquiry. We were told that of the three sources that he used, one is the Horst-Wessel-Lied, the anthem of the Nazi Party from 1930-1945, which is illegal in Germany and Austria. When asked to explain the context and meaning of the piece, which would justify his use of this source, he refused.
This was his obligation to our orchestra as a commissioned artist and particularly important given the fact he was working with students, ages 12-22. Had the composer revealed the sources of his piece and the context under which they were used upon submission of the final commission in September 2014, the piece and the notes could have served as an important teaching moment for our students. However, without this information, and given the lack of transparency and lack of parental consent to engage with this music, we could not continue to feature his work on the program.
Again, if the composer had been forthright with us from the start, this situation would not have transpired. He was chosen last spring for the commission from among a strong group of candidates by an impartial panel of seven composers and music educators. The new piece he created in response to receiving the commission received its first hearing when it was given to the orchestra to rehearse in December.
We believe deeply in a free creative process. But along with freedom comes responsibility, even more so when young people are involved. We continue to be committed to champion new young composers through our ground-breaking First Music composition program, which has commissioned over 137 composers since 1984. We are proud that First Music commission winners have been recognized by the Rome Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and Guggenheim Fellowship.
Our mission at the NYYS is to educate and inspire young musicians, composers, and conductors. We also encourage creativity within a culture of mutual respect and honesty. This situation, while unfortunate in so many ways, has taught us to remain true to our values as we serve the best interests of all our students.
All of us at the NYYS are deeply disappointed that this decision was necessary knowing how much time and effort the students put into preparing the piece for performance. We thank them for their wonderful contributions to making the NYYS such a special place, and we appreciate the ongoing interest in the success of our performers and the NYYS from all of our alumni, supporters, and the wider music community.
Finally, TFP wants to address some issues she had seen raised on Social Media that she has opinions about:
1. It does not matter that members and staff of NYYS did not know of this work prior to this incident, because Mr. Tarm knew all along. His advisor at New England Conservatory had cautioned him against using it – he knew what he was doing, and he made sure NYYS did not. Faulting someone for not knowing a piece of music created before they were born, that is never played in repertoire in the United States is absurd.
2. The NYYS did not ‘cave’ or ‘fold’ to pressure – there was no pressure. There were no outside groups or community activists lobbying for this piece to be removed. They made a decision as Educators, they made a decision as people who had commissioned work to not play the work.
3. This was not an instant decision, nor was it made by one person.
4. No famous composer would be ‘rolling in his grave’ over this incident, because if a famous composer’s music was stolen and they were not credited, they would be pissed off – not angry on the behalf of the one who swiped the music.
5. Mr. Tarm has not suffered by this, he is now famous.
Congratulations, Mr. Tarm, you have entered the CHEERS Bar of young classical composers.
Honestly, do any of you think that this guy…
did not know exactly what he was doing?
On the 70th Anniversary of the release of the prisoners from Auchwitz someone lies to get the Nazi Anthem played at Carnegie Hall?
Thought you could pull one over on the kids and you got outed by a Senior Citizen?