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Unsilenced musical witness to the Holocaust
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Unsilenced musical witness to the Holocaust

by Ron Anders - SGN A&E Writer

Last month's shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and the appearance of über-bigot Fred Phelps' followers in Seattle lent a timely urgency to the world premiere screening of Unsilenced: A Decade of Musical Witness, a superlative documentary film shown at the Museum of History and Industry. John Sharify, best known as KOMO TV's Emmy-award-winning newscaster, wrote and directed this chronicle of Music of Remembrance, a Seattle-based organization dedicated to memorializing and celebrating musicians whose voices were silenced in the Holocaust. The film serves as a cautionary reminder of the unfathomable devastation of a people, highlighting the priceless musical gifts that were almost lost in the destruction of European Jewry in World War II.

Documenting Music of Remembrance's first 10 years, Unsilenced touches upon both the personal and the universal, beginning with the emotional and professional journey of Artistic Director Mina Miller, a concert pianist new to Seattle in 1998, whose musicianship and heritage led her to give new life to the work of long-silenced musicians. Her journey took her from printing concert tickets in her home to standing center stage at Benaroya Hall.

Front and center in this film is the music itself: works by those whose journeys ultimately led them to the gas chambers - music miraculously preserved and given new life by dedicated musicians and enthusiastic audiences. Interspersed with contemporary concert footage are Nazi propaganda films of concerts filmed in the Terezín concentration camp. These films show camp inmates in musical performance - and were used to whitewash the atrocities, falsely intimating that they were treated well in the camps. Participants in the films were murdered soon after its completion. In the children's opera Brundibár (which Music of Remembrance has revived), boys and girls sang about the triumph of good over evil - and were subsequently sent to their deaths.

In the spirit of preserving the memory of those lost, the organization continues to commission new musical works. Mina Miller's efforts to memorialize Gays who perished in the Holocaust led her to commission For a Look or a Touch, a theatrical song cycle based on a true story of two young Gay lovers torn apart. Also seen is soprano Jane Eaglen performing Letter to Warsaw, six poems set to music. The film features musicians and composers whose dedication has helped Music of Remembrance grow from an idea to an organization that continues to challenge artists and audiences. Gerard Schwarz, director of the Seattle Symphony, was especially instrumental in encouraging Mina Miller to present the music in major venues.

Unsilenced strikes a delicate balance: confronting the horrors of man's inhumanity without being morbid - and celebrating the human spirit without whitewashing unfathomable cruelty. Most of all, it shows how music keeps the spirit alive of those who have long been taken from us. For information on showings of Unsilenced and its upcoming DVD release, contact musicofremembrance.org

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