My father was honored as a holocaust survivor this past weekend by being asked to speak to thousands of students at one of the Marches for the Living in Poland (which was overshadowed by the tragic plane crash). It made me think of something, and that is, since becoming a Music Director I have attended many more funerals and visitations than any other kind of ceremony….
Mark Spigelman (my dad) survived the horrors of the Holocaust thanks to the determination of my grandparents and a lot of luck along the way. He felt so honored to have been asked to lead the March of the Living this past weekend, and yet there must have been a heaviness on that walk to realize that so many perished. At the same time as a survivor he was able to honor them and speak to young people and to charge them with the responsibility of never letting it happen again. This hopefully gave him some comfort.
Our family’s story was brilliantly captured in the 1992 Pulitzer prize winning comic book Maus by Art Spiegelman, who’s father and my grandfather were 1st cousins. In the book there’s a scene in a bunker (the entrance hidden by a pile of old boots) with my grandmother holding my father as a crying baby and being told to be quiet for fear of discovery. He recalls the 1st 5 years of his life dressed as a girl (common as Jewish boys being circumcised were easy to identify) and hardly ever crying! Who could imagine what they all witnessed, and how lucky I feel to even be here at all.
With the Orchestra here in Springfield that has a long tradition of hiring members from the community, I have attended several funerals of past members (even in my first week as Music Director), parents of current members and also audience members, some of whom I didn’t know or scarcely knew. It is not part of my job description to attend any such ceremony, but I feel it’s my duty to do so because sacrifices made, commitments kept, and patronage by so many have made it possible for me to stand on the podium I currently occupy, not to mention the beauty of live music that the orchestra brings a community in itself is a legacy of achievement by those who wanted it to be so. So we are also on a musical march for the living, and not in any way could I even begin to fathom or compare it to what my father went through when he was a child (also last weekend, plus every day of his life) except that we always need to pay homage to those who came before us and to celebrate the legacy they left which is our future, the city’s future and in many cases the future of live music.
On a brighter note, last time I was in Fort Worth I caught up with Dave “Tillou” Steele who was a member of the Springfield Symphony Viola section in 1940 and 1941! He left to join the Navy in WWII, now he plays Baritone Sax (insert Viola joke here) and still works as an engineer. How could you not be in awe of that! We are holding photos of the Orchestra from those years.