‘Seven Last Words of the Unarmed’ symphony, dialogue to bridge racial divides, spur empathy

Democrat Files

“What are you following me for?” – Trayvon Martin, 17

“Mom, I’m going to college.” – Amadou Diallo, 23

“Why do you have your guns out?” – Kenneth Chamberlain, 66

“It’s not real.” – John Crawford, 22

“I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.” – Michael Brown, 18

“You shot me! You shot me!” – Oscar Grant, 22

“I can’t breathe.” – Eric Garner, 43

A composer took the last words uttered by seven unarmed black men before they were killed. He wove them into a symphony.

This month, the musical piece “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” is coming to the capital city’s Ruby Diamond Concert Hall.

The Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra will be joined by the Florida A&M Concert Choir and Atlanta-based Morehouse College Glee Club in the performance, hosted by Leon County and The Village Square.

In the second half of the performance, the orchestra will perform Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Later, Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil will facilitate a dialogue with the TSO board on art’s impact on a community.

“It’s a means for discussion and healing around race, here in Tallahassee as well as the bigger community,” said Byron Greene, TSO board member.

Joel Thompson’s composition uses Joseph Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Christ” as a text structure guideline, and incorporates “L’homme arme,” a French Renaissance melody, throughout the score.

The piece’s several movements ebb and flow between intense staccatos and flowing refrains, anchored by silences.

“Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words doesn’t sow anger or inflame political divides, but instead explores the universal concept of loss and the empowering possibilities of empathy,” Eugene Rogers, University of Michigan’s Director of Choral Activities, said in a release.

Amanda Stringer, TSO’s CEO, has had her heart set on bringing the “powerful” performance to Tallahassee.

“It’s a positive way to get the community talking about this issue,” Stringer said, “and how we can improve the situation and move beyond it.”

Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown’s death was at the hands of a Missouri cop who shot him.

West African immigrant Amadou Diallo was shot to death by four New York police officers.

Oscar Grant was killed on New Year’s Day by California officers.

Inside an Ohio Walmart, John Crawford was shot and killed by an officer. “It’s not real,” he told the officers about the BB gun he picked up.

Trayvon Martin was walking home from a convenience store when a neighborhood watch volunteer shot him.

Kenneth Chamberlain, a former Marine, was killed when police broke down his door and shot him in his New York home.

Eric Garner died after a New York officer placed him in a choke hold while arresting him. Garner pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”

Greene said he hopes the performance will inspire empathy.

“This is something that we hope will show humanity and help us to look at each other with a different eye: to see the humanity in others,” he said. “To empathize helps you to really see other people as people – and not just ‘other’ or ‘them’ or ‘they.'”

By Nada Hassanein | Courtesy of the Tallahassee Democrat