I have been looking for consoling music to listen to during this time of crisis.
Most music is too intense for me right now.
I find — and always have — the composer Alan Hovhaness’s “Ave Maria,” Opus 100, no. 1a, for women’s chorus and instrumental accompaniment, which was composed in 1955, to be a beautiful piece that is just right right now. “Ave Maria” is part of a three-part work of the composer entitled Triptych.
My father, Alan W. Smith, had a nodding acquaintance with Hovhaness when both were in their adolescence. He and Hovhaness grew up in the same town (Arlington, Massachusetts) and had the same piano teacher.
I know I am not alone in my feelings about the treatment of migrant families and migrant children. I almost can’t bear it.
Even though, of course, I am not a victim.
A couple of things from my own personal experience help to give me some understanding of how traumatic it must be for those children:
I recall once at a young age (but it could not have been too young), I spent a night at my paternal grandparents’ house. They lived in the next town. I had been left to stay over for the night. I missed my parents, got very upset, and began to cry. My grandmother couldn’t console me. She tried very hard; she was a very nice woman. And, yet, I couldn’t accept or deal with being separated from my parents.
My wife and I dropped our first-born son off at his aunt and uncle’s house on a Saturday evening when he was about six months old. It was the first time he had ever been left in someone else’s care. They lived about an hour away from us. It was not an overnight. It was just for a few hours while we attended some event. He had a frozen look on his face and looked not only emotionally distraught, but like he could not comprehend what was occurring and was so traumatized he was unable to express any emotion. He was mute and his facial muscles were constricted. He had already met his aunt and uncle, fairly often, in pleasant circumstances.
The trauma associated with these instances is nothing compared to what the children taken away from their parents by Border Patrol agents are undergoing.
“ ‘No One Is Going to Separate Us Again’: Guatemalan Mother Reunites With Son,” The New York Times, June 23, 2018
This mother got her child back. But can you imagine the emotional harm he has experienced? If I remember vividly being emotionally distraught when I was left for one evening with my kindly grandmother (when I was around same age as the Guatemalan boy whose separation is the subject of this story), can you imagine the psychological harm done (as I have already said) and how he will never be able to overcome, forget, or bury it?
Alan Hovhaness (then named Alan Vaness Chakmakjian) and my father, Alan W. Smith, both grew up in Arlington, Massachusetts. They both attended Arlington High School; Alan Chakmakjian (Hovhaness) had already graduated by the time my father began high school.
Alan Chakmakjian (Hovhaness) and my father both studied under the same piano teacher in Arlington and had a nodding acquaintance.
Alan Hovhaness was an American composer of Armenian and Scottish descent. He was one of the most prolific 20th-century composers, with his official catalog comprising 67 numbered symphonies (surviving manuscripts indicate over 70) and 434 opus numbers. The true tally is well over 500 surviving works since many opus numbers comprise two or more distinct works.
Boston Globe music critic Richard Buell wrote: “Although [Hovhaness] has been stereotyped as a self-consciously Armenian composer … his output assimilates the music of many cultures. What may be most American about all of it is the way it turns its materials into a kind of exoticism. The atmosphere is hushed, reverential, mystical, nostalgic.”