Classically Black: #TakeTwoKnees

TW/CW: disturbing imagery of Transatlantic slave trade and police brutality.

Anthony McGill

After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Anthony McGill, the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic (and the only African-American principal in that illustrious orchestra), recorded himself in his living room playing a mournful, mixed-tonality version of “America the Beautiful,” and posted the video on YouTube.

In the last 15 seconds of the video, McGill knelt down with his head bent, holding his clarinet behind his back. His posture evokes many conflicting images: not only prayer, but also bondage:

And arrest:

McGill wrote:

The great tenor Lawrence Brownlee responded by singing the spiritual “There’s a Man Going Round Taking Names” on both knees, both the song and his posture an allusion to the death of George Floyd.

Other classical musicians across race and ethnicity took up the hashtag #TakeTwoKnees in support of black lives and against police brutality.

Do you think classical music is an effective tool for protesting against injustice? Why or why not?

Season 3 of the Amazon Prime series Mozart in the Jungle featured an episode called “Not Yet Titled,” in which the fictional orchestra, based on the New York Philharmonic, plays a concert at Rikers Island under the direction of their charismatic Mexican conductor Rodrigo De Souza (Gael Bernal). The episode was filmed live at Rikers, and the audience was made up of real inmates. Watch it here. Do you agree with the inmates interviewed about the power of classical music?

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