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One year ago, when YJI brought the Bill of Rights to Maine

When Youth Journalism International brought composer Neely Bruce’s wonderful music celebrating the Bill of Rights to Maine a year ago, few could have guessed the strife, heartache and woes that would afflict the nation, and the world, in the months to come.

We’ve seen a pandemic arise that has already killed nearly a million people worldwide, including more than 200,000 Americans. We’ve seen the economy in freefall. We’ve seen all too often why Black Lives Matter and why the struggle for racial justice in the United States remains an unfinished job despite generations of struggle.

Through it all, questions that focus on the freedoms laid out in the Bill of Rights have been at the heart of much of the debate, from whether orders to wear masks infringe on personal liberty to how to stop police officers from gunning down Black Americans time and again. We have seen arguments rage about guns, about bail, about religious liberty and what ideals Americans hold so dear that government cannot infringe upon them.

It is part of a timeless effort to define who we are, what we stand for and what this nation wants to be.

The Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, are a crucial foundation for much of the vigorous back-and-forth that rages across the land. Thanks to Bruce, it is possible to listen to  his “The Bill of Rights: Ten Amendments in Eight Motets” and perhaps emerge with a new appreciation for the freedom this country has long cherished, a liberty that stands always in defiance of tyrants.

You can watch the September 22, 2019 performance of the piece here:


As anyone can see from watching it, the classical music Bruce wrote is divided into eight parts, or motets, separated by a reading of each amendment in turn. For details about the performance, you can see the the program for the concert.

This is a picture of what it looked like to the audience at the First Universalist Church of Auburn as Genie Gannett, founder of the First Amendment Museum in Augusta, Maine read the First Amendment near the beginning of the performance:

Genie Gannett, founder of the First Amendment Museum in Augusta, Maine, reading the First Amendment during the Bill of Rights concert in Auburn, Maine on Sept. 22, 2019.

Like any live music, everything didn’t go perfectly, but it was lovely, moving and important.

We were lucky that U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine took the time both to enjoy the concert and to speak afterwards about the importance of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Too bad the day proved so hot that he couldn’t put on the hazmat suit that he intended to wear, but he still made his point pretty effectively. It’s well worth watching his address:

None of this would have been possible without the help of many people and sponsors. It’s impossible to name them all, but we are especially grateful to our presenting sponsors, the First Amendment Museum in Augusta, the Maine Humanities Council, the Sun Journal newspaper in Lewiston and Richard Hicks, who also gets serious credit for leading choir rehearsals for weeks beforehand.

We owe an immense debt, too, to the many singers, musicians and readers who made the show possible. Many spent countless hours practicing. Others came long distances to lend their talents. Thank you to all of them.

We are grateful as well to the Rev. Jodi Cohen Hayashida, the minister of the First Universalist Church of Auburn, where the concert was held, for her support and introduction. We are also indebted to the church itself, of course, and to the many parishioners who stepped up to help in ways large and small.

Thanks to John Spruill for videotaping the entire performance and to Rick Rau for capturing the audio with high quality equipment.

Finally, there is no way to thank Neely Bruce enough for his role in all of this. A professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Bruce wrote the music, promoted it for years and came to Maine to direct the show, the first time it was done in the Pine Tree State. He is a true friend both to Youth Journalism International and to the effort to protect the liberties that are so essential to America.

This post is likely to be updated with more photographs, more video and with an audio recording of the concert.

You can support Youth Journalism International’s efforts to uphold the Constitution, the First Amendment and democracy worldwide by donating here.
Thank you!

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