New York, NY, November 3, 2016 – Music students at The Juilliard School gave a well-received sunrise performance – “God Loves Jazz” – this morning on West 65th Street, on the eastern side of the entrance to the storied performing arts academy on the Lincoln Center campus. Their instrumentation included brass, wind and string performers. The Juilliard contingent was joined by students from the nearby La Guardia High School for Performing Arts, who added vocals to certain musical selections, which included “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Amazing Grace,” “When The Saints Go Marching In” and “Take The A Train.”
Almost as if to disrupt the spirited, seemingly spontaneous concert, a trio of outlandish performance artists, purporting to represent a so-called “church,” took up a location opposite the students, on the west side of the entrance, each brandishing multiple placards quoting select bible verses and claiming that God opposes, specifically, LGBTQ and Jewish people. One wore a hoodie displaying the URL of a website which is apparently dedicated to the principle that God hates America. Fortunately, despite the strenuous yet charmless vocal efforts of the “church” group, the Juilliard performance more than overwhelmed any effort to disrupt it.
A number of New York police officers attended the performance to insure that the sidewalk would not be blocked for passers-by. To achieve that objective, the NYPD cordoned off each performance group using the often-seen “bicycle rack” dividers. The three “church” representatives, who seemed to revel in their one-note portrayals, were spaciously accommodated with room to spare in their pen. The Juilliard/La Guardia contingent grew sufficiently large that the police obliged them by twice expanding their area, which was initially equal in dimension to that provided to the “church,” and still other students massed outside of it. At its peak, roughly five dozen people were in the Juilliard performance space.
A highlight of the Juilliard set was a new arrangement of a vintage pop tune. Quite remarkably, sheet music revealed that the piece was titled in tribute to the so-called church, almost as if the simultaneous performance was expected. Its name: “Rick Rolling The Westboro Baptist Church.”
The students may well have been missing class or giving up precious sleep to entertain the public, but their exuberance and skill met with great approval from those who were lucky enough to happen upon the performance. The music even inspired one Juilliard dance student to display her skills by dancing on a bench just across 65th Street from the musicians. As the for the “church,” their reactionary, confrontational act, which they have been performing around the country, could be mistaken as a parody of small minded hate group, if only there were any levity or wit to their repetitive text.
While the streets of New York are open to all for self-expression, The Juilliard students showed that they are more than ready for the appraisal of both New York residents and tourists. The competing act met with no visible or vocal approval. The ragtag performance art “church” troupe might do well to go back to where they came from, where perhaps they might find more like-minded audiences.
Addendum, November 3, 12:30 pm: I did not mean to cast aspersions on Kansas, as I truly had no idea where this “church” is actually from until I received some responses to this post. I was employing the time-worn riposte, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?” figuratively, not literally.
Photos and video © Howard Sherman