Silent Halls

Thirty years ago in May of 1971, a young songwriter walked into the Record Plant in New York City along with buddies: Paul Griffin – piano; Mike Mainieri – marimba; Ray Colcord – electric piano; Roy Markowitz – percussion and Gene Orloff – concert master. This songwriter laid down a track that would awaken a nation deep in the throes of the Vietnam War and just over two years away from its President resigning. The songwriter was Don McLean and his ballad was “American Pie.” Its prose started off innocent enough with:

A long long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

Don made the circuit of the talk shows including Merv Griffen where he was asked what he was trying to say. Don dodged the question by saying, “Everyone’s got a spin on this thing, from the pop psychologists to the music critics.” They say that “American Pie” is a metaphor for the American dream and that our society has lost its innocence. That we are manipulated by a government with no morals that is trying to change us from a society of free thinkers to a society where our basic right to pick and choose are regulated by the popular decision of the masses. Uniformity should extinguish individuality. That the line “the day the music died” is a direct correlation to the death of our spirit. Others just say it’s a simple song about Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens dying in a plane crash February 3, 1959.” Coincidentally enough, the plane’s name was “American Pie.”

The truth probably lies some place in the middle. Don went on to write other hits like “Vincent” but none captured the imagination that “American Pie” did. The art form, whether expressed in music or on stages from community theatres to Broadway is dying; it’s becoming extinct. Producers care more about the bottom line. Pablo Picasso was once asked why he chose to be a painter. His reply, “I didn’t, it chose me. I don’t paint to live, I live to paint, I live to create.”

The artisans of today — the poets, the actors, the painters and writers — do what they do because they have a gift and because they have no choice. Their ability to see what no one else can and present it to us in such a way that we are forced to think outside the box and accept that dreams can come true and nothing is impossible. And that, all by itself is the greatest gift we can receive. But, one by one we are losing our storytellers. Not out of a lack of commitment from the artist but from a society that is turning its back on the performing arts. In our schools funding is being cut back so much that a child can’t even discover whether he’s going to be the next Olivier because the drama department has been closed. Community theatres, most of which are non-profit are closing in record numbers due to lack of attendance, private donations and the disappearance of grants.

In Don McLean’s song “American Pie” he asks, “Do you have faith in God above?” and if we do, “music can save our mortal soul.” The arts are our music, don’t allow anyone to silence our halls. Visit your town theatre this weekend instead of a ninety-minute prepackaged sequel at the multiplex. Donate your time and money to a child that deserves all the choices possible so they can make their dreams a reality. Give back to all the voices that cry out to be heard. Otherwise, we’ll wake up in a world where original thought and creativity are replaced with the sounds of silence.

by Fred Cuellar the Diamond Guy®