The students at Alta Middle School and Buena Vista University have been fortunate over the past several weeks to get a first-hand feel for what the survivors of the Holocaust went through. Through a special collaboration, the two entities shared presentations by three survivors, and this week, they had the opportunity to listen to the six-voice a cappella music of Western Wind from New York City.
The group was formed 37 years ago, by a small group who believed they could make the world better for future generations while preserving some of the music of the Holocaust era.
The group has shared variations of its inspirational program through the years and many changes, including the one presented at BVU this week to the public Monday evening and to the Alta students on Tuesday. The concert contained songs about Jewish life and the Holocaust.
The songs were moving, presented in Yiddish and German, but the emotions connecting with audiences that could speak neither tongue. The singers shared the messages and spoke about the composers of the songs with their audiences.
Music, they have learned through their research, was important to the peope in the concentration camps. "It was a way of expressing our sadness and grief," one of the victims left behind in a journal. Another added that music provided hope when sources for hope were few. One of the songs presented was written by a 12-year-old girl in a concentration camp. The singers have learned that she perished there.
The Holocaust stripped the Jewish of all their rights, but it also cost the world many talented and gifted people in the fine arts.
In a concentration camp near Prague, the Western Wind members shared, musicians were allowed to perform, but little did they know, the Germans were trying only to make it appear that the prisoners were not being mistreated. In fact, personnel from the Red Cross were brought in to see how well the musicians were being treated and had the opportunity to hear them perform. Soon after, the musicians were taken to other camps where their voices were silenced. They wrote many operas and chorals, the Western Wind members have found, and some pieces did survive.
A multicultural vocal music repertoire, this program helps build bridges between the ethnic groups. The members told the students that pre-Holocaust there were many mixed ethnic musical groups that produced incredible work. But once the Nazi movement came to power, such groups were disbanded.
"We're a mixed group and if we were told we could not have Jewish members, we would have to disband," a member reflects today.
Western Wind has performed around the world and has gained a great reputation. They have expanded their efforts by forming an arts-in-education program, implementing it in the New York public school system in 1981. Their music and knowledge have affected the lives of hundreds of kids.
They also regularly conduct workshops in ensemble singing and have produced radio programs throughout the U.S. and have performed in 12 different languages.
They have produced 19 recordings, 11 on their own record label. For more on the group, see www.westernwind.org.