Kansas City’s All Souls Church uses ‘music as an ally’ in the fight against youth suicide

Tyler Clementi playing the violin
Jane Clementi / Tyler Clementi was an accomplished violinist.

After the death of her son, Tyler Clementi, Jane Clementi founded an organization dedicated to addressing teen bullying and suicide. Through that work, a song cycle was created in Tyler’s honor. Hear Christy L’Esperance’s conversation with Anthony Edwards, Music Director at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, about this choral tribute.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the suicide prevention hotline at 988 or go online to chat at 988lifeline.org/chat.

Tyler Clementi was a young man who could play the violin and ride a unicycle — at the same time, in fact.

At 18, Tyler, who was gay, was the target of cyber-bullying and social humiliation during the first weeks of his freshman year in college. Tyler ended his life shortly after on September 22, 2010.

 

Tyler’s mother, Jane Clementi, responded by founding the Tyler Clementi Foundation which works to end bullying through education and outreach.

Through that foundation came the powerful choral work: “Tyler’s Suite,” a set of nine pieces written by nine prominent composers, including Stephen Schwartz ( “Wicked”), Jake Heggie and John Corigliano.

AnthonyCropped.jpg
Christy L’Esperance / Anthony Edwards at the Classical KC studios

Representing the perspectives of Tyler and his family members, “Tyler’s Suite” travels through moments that are beautiful, funny, heartbreaking, and inspiring.

Anthony Edwards will lead a mixed choir in performances of “Tyler’s Suite” as the culmination of a recent series about youth suicide.

“I think by inviting the spotlight to be on this darkness, we can celebrate not only Tyler, but those around us who are experiencing depression or bullying or shame, or all the things that culminate in people taking their own lives,” says Edwards.

Jane Clementi will speak at both performances. She has said that music has proved to be a powerful ally in this fight. It “burrows right into the soul.”

Tyler Clementi was a talented violinist, so his voice is represented throughout the suite by a solo violin. The first movement begins with a lone violin, eventually joined by piano and wordless chorus.

The remaining movements are set to lyrics, written by Pamela Stewart. Edwards explains that Pamela “met with the Clementi family and experienced their loss through their stories of Tyler and their experiences with his death.”

“I Have Songs You Haven’t Heard,” though, is from Tyler’s perspective. Edwards says it’s “an expression saying, for the family, that he didn’t get to finish his music.”

Jane’s perspective is poignantly expressed in two movements: “The Tyler Show” and “I Love You More.”

Edwards describes “The Tyler Show” as “a very jazzy, upbeat expression of the chaos surrounding (Tyler’s) death and what Jane experienced in that moment and how the television was something she couldn’t really stop.”

A moment that gives him goosebumps is in “I Love You More,” which explores Jane Clementi’s deep loss following Tyler’s death.

“I don’t know if it’s because of missing my own mother or if it’s because I spent so much time with Jane and learning about Tyler and his life… Pamela Stewart’s poetry is so expressive and Ann Hampton Callaway’s music is so astonishingly beautiful, and it really brings the mother’s lament to the front.”

Edwards believes that the true meaning of what’s happening in “Tyler’s Suite” is how you come out of the other side.

He hopes that those who listen to this music “find joy in their life and can find a reason to remember anyone in their life who has taken their own life.”

Performances of “Tyler’s Suite” will be presented Sunday morning, May 7 and Monday evening, May 8th in Bragg Auditorium at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Kansas City.

More information is at allsoulskc.org.

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