The Redwood String Ensemble is being honored as a Champion of Change for their work ensuring safety, dignity, and equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, as demonstrated by the organization's inspiring video entry in the LGBT Pride Month Video Challenge.
Music is an audience member whistling "Maria," years after a performance of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story; it is the heavy and solemn silence after the last chord of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings"; it is the united "Call to Arms" of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Insofar as music as an expression of human emotion, it has the unique power to surpass the limits as race, creed, gender, and sexuality. Bernstein, Barber, and Copland are nationally acclaimed for their roles in shaping the "American" sound, and their artistic legacy is still a rich source of inspiration for American compositions of today, from symphonic works to musicals and movie scores. It is an incredible testament to the transcendent power of music that Bernstein, Barber, and Copland's accomplishments were never overshadowed by public speculation regarding their sexual orientation. This transcendent potential of music - the implied belief in music's ability to inspire an audience to unite and overlook differences - serves as the foundation for the ideals of the Redwood String Ensemble.
In our three years spent performing together, our quartet has learned that both street-corner onlookers and crowds in prestigious concert halls want the same thing from our performances. They crave the sense of connection, the inherently communal experience, of hearing real people breathe life into centuries-old compositions: the venerated composers, modern-day musicians and generations of music-lovers, all united in the expression of raw human emotion through art. Onstage we identify as a quartet, as best friends, as queers, as lesbians, as allies, as snow boarders, as gardeners, and so on…all the myriad facets of human identity. We judge the quality of our performances not on the flawlessness of our work, but rather on our ability to momentarily dissipate the barriers that exist between humanity. Even those who may not agree with our openness as LGBT Americans still have the capacity to connect with our music in and of itself. Music's potential to surmount individual differences is reason enough for our ensemble to continue to enact social compassion and our proud belief in equality to our audiences, onstage and off.
We are honored and humbled to be recognized as "Champions of Change," especially given the talent and dedication of our many exemplary colleagues. Our ensemble approaches the ongoing struggle for equality through the lens of music, and we use the interconnectivity of art to explore the intimacy of the human condition itself. We believe that - to quote the LGBT ally and singer Annie Lennox - "being a human being is what truly counts." We rehearse and perform with the ambition to inspire all; we hope that our proud identities catalyze change for our communities, and we aspire for our pride to encourage the nation to relinquish fear and bigotry in favor of working and living honestly, passionately, and with the whole of their identities. The Redwood String Ensemble's story lies in the stage, and - like Bernstein, Barber, and Copland - the beauty of our art lies in the truth of our identity. We are lesbians, queers, and gay allies… but when we perform, we are simply musicians.