On one of my favourite t-shirts it says, Thank EU for the music. It reminds me of a really special day. A group of pro-EU campaigners decided that the yearly Last Night of the Proms concert was a celebration of the power of music to bring people together. So we would hand out small EU flags to Promenaders as a sign of unity in Europe and to support musicians.
Music in the hungarian resistance
This is very personal for me, as my stepfather who raised me was a classical musician. Refugees from USSR-ruled Hungary of 1956 formed an orchestra in one of the Austrian refugee camps (Philharmonia Hungarica). They toured most of the year representing the fight for freedom, which was as precious to them then as it is to Ukrainians now, both fighting the same enemy.
Music through the ages has played a role in the resistance movements. In Communist Hungary, Verdi’s opera Nabucco was banned from the Budapest Opera House because it tells the biblical story of the oppression of the Jews by the Empire of Nebuchadnezzar. My mother told me that the audience would stand up as a symbol of their resistance to the tyranny of the USSR.
Music in occupied Ukraine
In the chaos of the Ukraine-Russia war, music has again emerged as a symbol of resistance for people. It is poignant to watch the video of Ukrainian pianist Irina Maniukina, as she played Chopin in the ruins of her house after it was damaged by Russian bombs.
EU Flags at the Proms
Some tabloids were angered by the handing out of EU flags at the Last Night of the Proms. But many of the musical pieces played at the concert are by European composers. We felt that after Brexit it was vital to demonstrate that it is possible to be patriotic. But at the same time we can be proud of being European and internationalist. The promenade concerts feature musicians and music from all corners of Europe. The group adopted the slogan #ThankEUForTheMusic.
The enthusiasm with which most people received the small EU flag we handed out made me very happy. It demonstrated that the negativity our government has shown towards our friends, families and allies across the Channel is not how most people feel towards Europe and Europeans.
Europe Day concert on 8 May 2022
This year, instead of standing outside a hall, watching people entering a concert, the group will be putting on a special concert themselves at St John’s Smith Square to celebrate Europe Day on 8 May. The Ukraine war brings home how vital European solidarity is for the survival of our continent (and the rest of the world as well).
I intend to celebrate Europe Day at this concert, with some outstanding music including Libertango, Oblivion, Por Una Cabeza, London Tango, and Tango Italiano.
If you want more details about the programme and how the idea of the concert developed, Daisy Windsor has written for North East Bylines, having interviewed Paolo Arrigo, lead organiser of Thank EU for the Music. He told her:
“I have looked into holding a pro-EU concert at the Royal Albert Hall and this is a small start to fulfilling this great dream.
“Brexit has done so much damage to the music Industry and has frustrated efforts by musicians to travel freely around Europe playing their music. There were no borders before Brexit.”Paolo Arrigo, lead organiser of Thank EU for the Music
Celebrate with flags
As with the Last Night of the Proms, the Europe Day concert encourages people to bring flags: Union Jacks, EU and Ukrainian flags will be warmly welcomed. On every seat, there will already be an EU flag, supplied by the so-called EU Flag Mafia team, as well as a sunflower as a sign of solidarity with Ukraine.
Our diversity will be celebrated with a wide variety of music. Besides Ode to Joy, the European Hymn and God Save the Queen, the Ukrainian National Anthem is on the programme to show our solidarity with their fight. A percentage of the ticket price will go to support the Ukraine DEC Appeal and other charities.
A universal language
There are hundreds of quotes about what music means to people. Plato said:
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”
For me personally, having grown up with a classical musician step-father and jazz musician childhood friends, music is as important as the air that I breathe. I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate Europe than with music. Music speaks in a universal language and breaks down divisions. It promotes communication, helping understanding and thus even promoting peace.
The cellist who survived in a death camp
A very special story by musician and singer Simone Wallfisch about his grandmother shows that music can bring about miracles, even in the darkest of times.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, the cello saved my grandmother’s life. When I was very young, I remember asking her (Anita Lasker-Wallfisch) about her survival in Auschwitz-Birkenau. One story she told me was as follows:
“Shortly after her arrival at the camp, when she was lying ill with typhus fever in the ‘Revier’ two SS men came in making selections for the Gas Chamber. They stopped at the feet of the seventeen year old girl, lying in rags with a shaved head and a number tattooed on her arm. ‘Das ist die Cellistin’ (‘That is the cellist’) one of them said, and they moved on. As simple as that.”
Music that heals and unites
In these dark days where we see Ukraine suffering the same kind of atrocities the Third Reich inflicted, we need to take advantage of the unifying and healing power of music. It is no coincidence that people all over the world have started to learn to sing Ukrainian songs to show their solidarity.
I look forward to this special concert, obviously for the joy it will bring but also for what it stands for: ‘Music Beyond Borders’. At a time when innocents are dying because of some crazed individual’s ideas of where borders should be, I hope that many will join us to symbolise that there is more that unites us than divides us.
St John’s, Smith Square, London, 8 May, 2.30pm – Bring EU’r Flag!
Thank EU for the Music!