Violin Vigil for Black Lives

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View the Violin Vigil for Elijah highlights video on our  YouTube Channel.

Due to weather the Vigil will occur on the rain date of Sunday, August 30, 4 pm instead of Saturday.

The Violin Vigil for Black Lives is an open-air, free event in the Memorial Field for Black Lives, an installation by Karen Davidson Seward at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site.  The violin vigil will take place at 4pm on August 29, 2020 (rain date August 30) and local and visiting string musicians are invited to play in a “string-along” led by jazz violinist and recording artist Charlie Burnham. 

One of the fifty memorials in the field is for Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist who died after a fatal encounter with Aurora, Colorado police officers last August.  While walking home, unarmed and listening to music with his earbuds, McClain was deemed “suspicious” and violently apprehended by police.  McClain died in the hospital several days later on August 30.  His death was declared a “wrongful death” in the courts. 

An animal-lover, McClain played the violin to stray cats because he believed it soothed them.  His life and death have inspired spontaneous violin vigils around the country, including here in Lake Placid. 

“When we participate in the violin vigils honoring Elijah McClain,” Burnham said, “we make room to reflect deeply on our country’s unique problems and how they make us feel.  In that moment we are free to grieve, to wrestle with our anger and despair.  And then we can find a way to move in a better pattern in our future.”

Burnham, on violin and joined by Fred Cash on electric bass, will perform in the Memorial Field and then Burnham will lead string musicians, residents and visitors alike, in performing three selections especially chosen for this occasion—Amazing Grace, We Shall Overcome and Let My People Go

“I hope the songs we chose to use give us some historical context to the moment we’re in,” explained Burnham.  “They are all cherished and well-used songs from the repertoire of the American freedom movement.”

Musicians who are interested in playing in the Violin Vigil should contact info@johnbrownlives.org to register and obtain the sheet music.  Safe social-distancing and masks are required of everyone. Musicians should bring their own music stand and others are encouraged to bring their own seating or blanket.

Burnham performs widely with bands as diverse as avant-blues-guitarist James Blood Umler’s Odyssey, Janine Nichol’s Semi-Free, String Trio of NY, Smokey Hormel’s Round-Up, Henry Butler & Steve Bernstein’s Hot-Seven. His fluid approach to violin can be heard on recordings by Cassandra Wilson, Norah Jones, Living Colour, Henry Threadgill, Rufus Wainwright, and Mesdeski, Martin & Wood. It is a rare treat to hear Burnham sing, as he has an innate sense of the dynamic of telling a song story, whether it’s the material of Fats Waller, Bob Wills, or his re-tooling the narrative and tone of Blind Willie Johnson’s Samson & Delilah

The Memorial Field for Black Lives will remain installed at the John Brown Farm until November 1.  The grounds are open daily and the historic house and gravesite and exhibition galleries are open every day except Tuesday, 10-5pm.

The Violin Vigil for Black Lives is sponsored by John Brown Lives! and Lake Flower Landing. This project is made possible, in part, with the funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts. Both the Memorial Field for Black Lives and the Violin Vigil for Black Lives are supported with funding from the New York State Park and Trail Partnership Grants and New York’s Environmental Protection Fund. The Park and Trail Partnership Grants are administered by Parks & Trails New York, in partnership with the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Link to sheet music for stringed musicians that have registered to participate.

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