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Classical 101

New recording helps bring healing after gun violence

Composer Stacy Garrop
Darrell Hoemann Photography
courtesy of Stacy Garrop
Composer Stacy Garrop

It was yet another gun-related tragedy that didn’t need to happen. But a remarkable piece of music now offers hope and a way forward through the trauma.

On July 4, 2022, a shooter opened fire at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Ill., killing seven and injuring 48 others. The much-reported incident inspired Highland Park resident and community leader Joanne Bernstein to commission Chicago-based composer Stacy Garrop to write a piece of music that could bring solace to the community.

Repair the World was Garrop’s response to the commission and the shooting. The Chicago-based Lincoln Trio’s recording of the work will be released this month as a single on the Cedille Records label.

Garrop’s journey from the traumatic aftermath of the shooting to the completion of Repair the World brought her face to face with the Highland Park community’s grief and led her ultimately to create a musical work that doubles as a space for contemplation and healing.

For several weeks after the shooting, Bernstein and Garrop interviewed city organizers, first responders, witnesses and survivors. They visited the Kindness Rock Garden established in the aftermath of the shooting, where community members left rocks decorated with messages of healing and hope. There Garrop found a rock decorated with the word “peace.”

Garrop and Bernstein also visited the site of a temporary memorial established shortly after the shooting. Jacqueline von Edelberg, founder and executive director of arts4impact.org, helped lead the community effort to create the memorial. Around 7,000 paper tags bearing handwritten notes were hung to strings wrapped around the pavilion’s columns. Nearby, bouquets of flowers enveloped a row of photographs of the seven people who died in the shooting.

When the temporary memorial was dismantled in October 2022, von Edelberg saved the handwritten notes and made them all available to Garrop to read in the course of her research.

“As I was sorting through the tags, one tag got inadvertently left out. And it had ‘tikkun olam’ written in Hebrew and ‘repair the world’ below it in English,” Garrop said.

Drawn from Jewish mysticism, the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam means “repairing the world.” The idea holds that the world is broken, and people have the responsibility to help fix it.

Garrop was allowed to hold on to the rock and the tag. Together they gave her the themes and inspiration for her new work.

“When I saw ‘peace’ and ‘tikkun olam,’ that’s how I figured out what I wanted to say musically,” Garrop said.

Garrop began working on the piece. As the musical ideas came to her, she realized she was weaving the concept of tikkun olam into the musical fabric of Repair the World.

“I was composing melodies and chords and I noticed that I was playing them one way on my electronic keyboard, which is where I work first to get musical ideas, and then I realized that the ideas were actually reversing and playing backwards,” Garrop said. “When I saw that the entire structure was working backwards, I thought, okay, I might as well just make sure that tikkun olam is working at every level in this piece.”

The work has the feel of an outpouring of sorrow, love and hope. Melodies ebb and flow between deep contemplation and yearning. And despite the work’s perfect architectural balance, the piece ends without concluding, as the work of repairing the world remains unfinished.

Repair the World was premiered by the Lincoln Trio on July 2, 2023, on a concert marking the one-year anniversary of the Highland Park shooting. Repair the World offers listeners a space in which to reflect on challenging circumstances – whatever their cause – and to rekindle an awareness of beauty, decency and courage in a violent world.

“One of the goals of the piece for me was to reflect on the inherent goodness of the people who jumped into action to save the injured and to provide resources afterwards to those who were affected either physically or emotionally,” Garrop said. “It’s something that I wanted to make sure was clear in the music.”

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.