articles / Pop Culture

What LA’s March for Our Lives Is Learning from “West Side Story”

The young people of this country are stepping up and taking ownership of what happens next when it comes to gun violence. As part of the #NeverAgain movement-started in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida-students all across the United States are participating in a March for Our Lives on March 24th to advocate for solutions to the epidemic of gun violence that is unique to the U.S.

Pianist Lara Downes | Photo by Rik Keller

Part of the march in Los Angeles is a musical performance. In the set, the local choir Tonality, conducted by Alexander Blake, will perform Shawn Kirchner’s haunting meditation on the words of Mahatma Gandhi, Eye for Eye. In addition, pianist Lara Downes (of multiple KUSC Albums of the Week) has assembled a group of 15-20 musicians from The Colburn School and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts to perform Somewhere, from Bernstein’s West Side Story.

We’ll find a new way of living,
We’ll find a way of forgiving

The music tells you everything you need to know: specifically, that the words of this tender song from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story are going to betray you. Maria and Tony will not find a new way of living and racism between their respective groups will not allow them to forgive.

Ultimately, Maria lays her weapon down, but Leonard Bernstein’s music suggests she doesn’t lay her hate down with it. The upper strings and woodwinds try to resolve the drama with a reprise of the theme from “Somewhere,” but the lower strings and timpani punctuate this with the dissonance of a tri-tone. The interval that was designated as “dangerous” by medieval composer Guido d’Arezzo and referred to as “The Devil in Music” in the 18th century is the interval that punctuates the conclusion and attempted resolution of this story.

Such is the tragedy of West Side Story, a show which throughout the course of the drama, continuously portrays characters denying responsibility for the hate in their hearts of The Other. The tragedy is that the story will go on. But there are lessons to be learned. We all fail. We all hate. It’s what happens next that counts.

Undoubtedly, the subject of gun violence is a heavily-politicized topic that is difficult for adults to discuss. How appropriate that the young people of America, through the power of music, are showing the adults how it’s done. You can find out more about the upcoming March for Our Lives event here.

There’s a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us

Written by:
Brian Lauritzen
Brian Lauritzen
Published on 03.29.2018