As New York reopens, a 'Hymn to the City'
2nd June 2021

A year after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered New York, the city is taking steps to reopen — and, with that, returning to live music.

But after the devastation COVID-19 wrought on New York, it’s not quite like snapping back to pre-pandemic “normalcy.”

“We all went through the pain and mourning during this terrible, sad year of pandemic,” Dasol Jeong, a violinist for the New York Philharmonic, told ABC News.

Recognizing that, Death of Classical, The Green-Wood Cemetery and the New York Philharmonic partnered up to present “Hymn to the City” on June 3-5, where attendees will walk around the Brooklyn cemetery to hear stories of those buried there and a collection of music, dance and poetry.

“As a native New Yorker, this is a celebration of the city I love, and an expression of gratitude to the people of NYC for the way that they always rise to the occasion,” Andrew Ousley, Death of Classical’s founder, told ABC News in an email.

PHOTO: Andrew Ousley, the founder of Death of Classical, is pictured in Green-Wood Cemetery's catacombs.

The event will feature a mix of music, from selections by early 20th-century American classical composer Florence Price to modern American composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, and from Paul Simon to Leonard Bernstein, with a “West Side Story Suite” performed by his gravesite.

Not being able to perform due to the pandemic “felt like we were going in a long dark tunnel without knowing when it will end,” Jeong, who is performing in the “Hymn to the City,” said, and being able to come back to it now is “a heart-warming experience.”

“I’m thankful that we, as musicians, can share our feelings and experiences through our music that can heal and mourn,” Jeong said.

Lucy Dhegrae, a mezzo-soprano who is part of “Hymn to the City,” is “deeply relieved to be working again,” particularly “in such a beautiful space.”

She also noted that “musicians — those who primarily earn income from live performances — have been hit particularly hard” financially by the pandemic, so while the return to performances is a celebration of arts, it’s also, she hopes, a start to New York City restoring “the financially devastated artist community.”

Death of Classical was one of the few organizations to hold a live music performance in New York during the year of the pandemic, with an event outdoors at Green-Wood Cemetery in October 2020 — “a time of deep uncertainty” between the pandemic and election season, Ousley said.

“This moment feels very different from that, and while we still have many challenges ahead, I think it’s worth taking a moment to pause, breathe and be grateful that we’ve gotten through it all,” he wrote.

PHOTO: "Hymn to the City" is a collaboration between Death of Classical, The Green-Wood Cemetery and the New York Philharmonic.

In preparing “Hymn to the City,” Ousley has been reflecting on how New Yorkers got through the pandemic, and also what New Yorkers did to support each other through other difficult moments like Hurricane Sandy, the 2003 blackout and 9/11.

“We’ve been through a trial together this past year,” he wrote, “and this event is about pausing to reflect back not only on the sadness and loss, but also the moments of light and hope that sustained us.”

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