The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What music will you listen to on Memorial Day? The Ear offers several stirring stories about music and Memorial Day, from Walt Whitman and the Civil War through World War II to the Twin Towers and the War of Terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. | May 26, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2014

My Mom always referred to it as Decoration Day

I liked that name. It seemed to fit the occasion better.

army grave with flag and flowrds istock photo

To be honest, The Ear has always liked the idea of honoring military service, but is much less inclined to celebrate unabashed militarism with parades and flag-waving (below is a photo of a Memorial Day parade in Chicago).

I think of Memorial Day as a sadder, more introspective and memory-driven holiday, as well as the traditional start of summer -– which, especially after a Wisconsin winter like the last one, is nothing to apologize for.

chicago memorial day parade

In any case, here is a link to an informative but very accessible history of the holiday that also highlights the important difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day:

graves with flags USE day

But putting history aside for a moment, how would you celebrate the holiday artistically, especially musically?

That is what The Ear wants to know.

Every year, the excellent blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR offers its musical take on Memorial Day. This year is no different and NPR has chosen some moving words and music that you should check out:

But over the past years, The Well-Tempered Ear has also offered previous blog posts – some offering suggested listening, others seeking it — that still seem relevant and still invite readers to participate.

Here is one from last year:

And here is a link to memorable 2011 posting, which made a lot of suggestions for composers and specific works, then asked for reader feedback and also featured the moving version of Sir Edward Elgar’s beautifully poignant “Nimrod” Variation from the “Enigma” Variations (heard in the original orchestration  at the bottom in a YouTube video that has almost 2,5 million hits and features Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) and Norah Jones in her “Hymn to America,” both used convincingly and touchingly in Ken Burns’ mammoth documentary film “The War”:

Finally, here is a stirring story, much of it previously unknown to me, about the history of “Taps” that appeared on NPR:

TAPS Getty Images

What music comes to your mind and heart when you think of Memorial Day?

The Ear wants to hear.

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  1. My choice is the Copland Third Symphony. Written in 1946, it signifies the end of a terrible time in world history and the promise of a brighter future.



    Comment by Robert — May 26, 2014 @ 10:15 am

    • Hi Robert,
      What a fine and unexpected choice.
      I think that is the Copland Symphony that also incorporates the famous “Fanfare for the common Man” in the fourth movement, making it all the more fitting.
      Heroism is often just common men and women doing what they see needs to be done at the time.
      Thank you.


      Comment by welltemperedear — May 26, 2014 @ 10:32 am

  2. Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony. It powerfully portrays the horror of war, and satirizes the justifications and glorifications while grieving war’s victims. Veteran’s Day is set aside for honoring those who have served in the military, both the living and the dead. Memorial Day is a remembrance of everyone who has died in wars, including the elderly and children. I think it’s fitting on this day to remember all those who were simply called ‘collateral damage.’


    Comment by slfiore — May 26, 2014 @ 9:25 am

    • Hi Susan,
      You suggest a wonderful selection in there Shostakovich symphony.
      But what really strikes me is the appropriateness of your remarks about including civilian casualties in our remembrance of the victims of war and conflicts.
      We should all be more aware of that — and talk about it more, consider it more when we are weighing the importance of military action or intervention.
      Thank you.


      Comment by welltemperedear — May 26, 2014 @ 9:33 am

  3. […] By Jacob Stockinger Today is Memorial Day, 2014 My Mom always referred to it as Decoration Day I liked that name. It seemed to fit the occasion better. To be honest, The Ear has always liked the id…  […]


    Pingback by Classical music: What music will you listen to ... — May 26, 2014 @ 5:46 am

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