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September 11, 2010

A musical reflection on 9/11: Arvo Part's 'De Profundis'

When a so-called pastor in Florida threatened to desecrate the memory of 9/11 with the burning of the Koran, a book holy to millions, I figured we had reached the lowest possible point as a nation. But I never underestimate the potential for evil and ignorance in this world. (Strange how people who throw the word 'Nazi' around these days without any justification don't seem as eager to use it when confronting a case of someone anxious to imitate genuine Nazi behavior).

People of all faiths and all nations should have pulled closer together after 9/11; for a nano-second, I think maybe a lot of them did. But, nine years later, we're as messed up and fired up as ever. With so-called patriots poisoning debates on politics and social issues every day, repeating lies and distorting facts with abandon, this doesn't seem like a very hopeful time. I shudder to think where we'll all be when the 10th anniversary of the tragedy rolls around.

On this ninth anniversary of that shattering September day, I find myself thinking how far we still have to go in the struggle for understanding, civility, peace. Seems to me we're still very much in darkness, which is why I thought of this music to mark the occasion: Avro Part's "De Profundis," a work from 1980 that gives fresh weight, poignant beauty and, perhaps, a tinge of hopefulness to the ancient prayer:

"Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord ... My soul waits for the Lord, more than sentinels wait for the dawn ... For with the Lord is kindness and with him is redemption."

This music may not be enough to blot out all the noise from that self-righteous, delusional Terry Jones or other mindless chatter, but I hope you find that it helps focus the mind more clearly on the loss and the lessons of 9/11:

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:22 AM | | Comments (5)


I found the choice of music and your article very appropiateand true. I lost my son on the anniversary of 9/11 and wish that people remember that it was the hate of a RADICAL muslim group and not that of normal Muslims. I genuially wish people of all religions would come together and honor those who lost their lives with peace and unity and not mar this day with politcal posturings and loud tactics.

Amen. Thanks very much for your comments. Tim

Thanks for posting this. (Where does he get those bass singers?)

It is simply beautiful.

They are amazing, aren't they? I'm glad you liked it. TIM

Thank you for reminding me of this beautiful piece and it's appropriateness for today.

Minor point; this past September 11 was Arvo Part's 75th birthday.

Not minor at all. I should have mentioned that coincidence. Thanks. TIM

I have always thought that Part's "In Memoriam Benjamin Britten" would be a perfect concert starter as a memorial for 9/11.

This is a beautiful piece too.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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