Rethinking Nero and the Gas Chamber Accompanists

One of the most memorable scenes for me from all the movies I’ve seen is the one in The Titanic when it’s clear the ship is sinking, they’re all going to die, and the first violinist of the chamber group looks to each member of the group and receives confirmation that ‘Yes, of course, we’re going to do this’ — not because it’s their job (like that sad character in McKeller’s Last Night) or because they want to soothe or distract the hysterical (who surely won’t be paying any attention), but because they’re musicians. And, despite their gig on the Titanic, music is everything. So what a way to die! To have as the last thing on one’s mind that score, to have that beautiful music be the last thing one hears, to draw the bow with one’s last breath —

So Nero fiddling while Rome burned and the people who played as the others walked to the gas chambers — not cowardice (because I’ve wondered what I would’ve done if I’d been given the order to play), not callousness, not endorsement, not mockery, not even comfort. But respect. If I can do nothing, at least I will give (you) beauty, I will honor (your) life with all of my skill and all of my art —

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