We live to remember

By Yvonne Hespos

MUSIC FROM GROUND ZERO -- Mark Dann, member of Dharma Bums, who have played for the Dalai Lama. R: Tim Tuttle. Photo by Chris Eckert.

If the light in the darkness of 9/11 was the extraordinary ability that revealed itself in ordinary people, Tim Tuttle is a musical version of that. He is not a professional musician, though you would never know it to see him onstage. But he is just a guy with a musical vision who really wants to tell this story.

To me, as a foreigner from Germany, 9/11 was one of these far away and long ago catastrophes. You see them on TV, you read about them in the newspaper and it's horrible, but they are always far away. At first everyone is talking about nothing else but it doesn't take long until other things get more important again, except for those who experienced it. Tim Tuttle might have felt the same way if he wouldn't have been there and gone through it.

When I met Tuttle for the first time, fresh off the plane from Germany, I thought he was one of these persons who are full of the joy of life. He said hello to me in a warm and friendly manner, as it is typical of the Americans. After a little bit of small talk he asked whether I wanted to hear what his whole little universe was about for the last couple of years. He stopped smiling at me and started to talk about 9/11 as if he were under some kind of pressure. He spoke very quickly, with expressive body language. Even though it was a little bit difficult for me to follow him (still acclimating myself to English), I could see how attached he was to the topic. The people at the next table must have picked up on what Tim was saying because suddenly they started to talk about it as well. I realized in an instant how present 9/11 still is to many, many people.

Though music was his first love, Tim Tuttle had gone into business like good American sons are supposed to. He had worked in the World Trade Center for several years prior to 9/11 and had only recently moved to a new building across the street. His office faced the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 That day his world was torn apart. He lost 35 friends and acquaintances. In the shock of that experience, he wrote the lyrics to his first song on a ferry as he moved slowly across the Hudson River late that in the afternoon of the attacks.

In the weeks and months following, his office continued to face the site, and relentlessly monitored the aftermath of the disaster. Days were broken by moments of silence as the flag-draped remains of someone's loved ones were removed. Songs kept pouring out of him, and a musical project unexpectedly arose, seemingly from the ashes of Downtown Manhattan. Tim Tuttle, Jeremy Slansky, Rich Lamb, Donna Kelly, Owen Yost, Jonathan Fritz, Mark Dann and Claudia Chopek, a group of talented and seasoned musicians, coalesced around the music. Their sessions morphed into an annual concert to honor friends they had known and lost and heroes they didn't know but wished they had.

Thus was born Music from Ground Zero, which is performed annually onthe anniversary of the attacks. Concerts in past years have been held at The Knitting Factory and Tribeca Rock.

In keeping with the theme of honoring the heroes of that day, proceeds from the concert are donated to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (www.fallenheroesfund.org). That charity is constructing a world-class state-of-the-art advanced training skills facility at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. The center will serve military personnel who have been catastrophically disabled in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The center will also serve military personnel and veterans severely injured in other operations and in the normal performance of their duties, combat and non-combat related.

The repertoire of "Music from Ground Zero" is a song cycle on the verge of a rock opera, which seethes with heartfelt emotion. As it explores the extremes of grief, bewilderment, hope and yearning it is both totally heartbreaking and incredibly healing. Tuttle testifies that the evening reflects him "going through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance," and back to square one again. The music is "not about politics nor about religion." As the son of a World War Two paratrooper who is grieved by the loss of meaning of Veteran's Day and Memorial Day, Tuttle's aim is to memorialize. He often quotes a Native American proverb, "They are not gone who live in the hearts of those they left behind."

The music has struck a nerve with 9/11 survivors and Tuttle has been periodically swamped with requests for recordings of "Music From Ground Zero." Although the lyrics are not flag-waving or even overtly patriotic, the CDs have become a popular gift for troops serving overseas.

Music From Ground Zero has always been a labor of love. Nine songs from the concert and a video from last year's "Music From Ground Zero" are available for free download at www.musicfromgroundzero.com. The website declares, "In a world where music is money these days the site is purely about healing. We must always remember."

Tuttle writes, "Everyone who prays for a peaceful world and for tolerance is inextricably linked to Ground Zero. Every American -- no, every caring person on this planet -- has a connection. I hope this helps in some small but meaningful way. It is my small contribution to a world filled with chaos."

I do feel linked to it now in some way and I will never forget.


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