DeKALB – Almost 10 years ago, after a gunman killed five people and wounded 17 others on the campus of Northern Illinois University, the community came together for a memorial event at the Convocation Center that included a choral concert. On Saturday, hearkening back to that memorial event, the campus will host Forward, Together: A Concert in Tribute.
Eric Johnson, director of choral activities at NIU, said he wanted to strike the right tone when planning the event.
“You want to walk a delicate line between honoring and remembering,” he said. “One of the key words was resiliency and healing. If you go too far into the darkness, or too far into the light, you could maybe err on one side or the other and have an experience that maybe misses the mark. ... It was one of the more delicate concert programming I’ve done.”
He said this concert is, to his knowledge, the first concert since 2008 memorializing the Feb. 14 shooting.
In 2008, dignitaries including presidential candidate Barack Obama attended the one held at the Convocation Center and it was nationally televised.
The concert on Saturday is part of a week of events surrounding the anniversary of the shooting. The Holmes Student Center is hosting an exhibit of archival materials and items sent or donated to the university in the wake of the shooting. Other events include a candlelight vigil on Friday and a reflection walk and recognition of first responders at the NIU basketball games on Saturday.
“They wanted us to have a concert as a tribute to look at the good that’s come out of it,” Johnson said, “the scholarships and bonds between the university and the community that grew out of this situation.”
Johnson said that part of the challenge in deciding what music would be performed and what poems would be read was deciding who the concert was for. In 10 years, the students who were on campus have since moved on from college, and the current student body was in grammar school at the time.
“The people that were here were the faculty. The people that were here were the community members,” he said. “It’s kind of been focused on that zoom back and take the health of the whole university and community.”
Planning for the event began with conversations last fall, Johnson said. Organizers consulted with the university committee tasked with planning all of the events this year, with music faculty on what music and songs would be best to perform and with the English department for poems to read at the event.
“The evening alternates between theater students reciting poetry and music ensembles from the School of Music performing,” Johnson said. Those ensembles include the concert choir, steel pan ensemble, piano and string trio, percussion ensemble and a jazz group.
“The poetry is evocative and aspirational, the music ranges from contemplative to give people a space to think about things to aspiring better things,” he said. The last two pieces of the concert will be a version of Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” and Bach’s B minor Mass “Dona nobis pacem.”
Grant us peace.
The event is free and open to the community, Johnson said, something that was important because the event wants to celebrate the bonds grown between the school and community.
“I believe firmly that music and the arts have such a great capacity to heal, to inspire or to challenge, and there are so many ways the arts interact with our social world, whether it’s social issues or opportunities to bring us together,” Johnson said. “I take seriously the opportunity to use the arts to make a better space in our community.”