Controversial cantata to debut overseas

The UAA music professor who cancelled a performance of his controversial cantata last spring is now making plans for the piece to be performed elsewhere.

Phillip Munger’s piece, “The Skies are Weeping,” met with intense opposition from members of the Anchorage community who protested that the piece was anti-Israel.

“There are dozens of artists around the U.S. who have contacted me saying they support the idea behind the music I wrote but would never be able to participate in a performance, as it would have an adverse impact on their career,” Munger said.

The cantata was inspired by the death of Rachel Corrie, an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Palestine, in March 2003.

Opponents of the performance said the work misrepresented Israel and supported pro-terrorist agendas.

The situation escalated in an open forum discussion April 27, which deteriorated into a shouting match. Shortly thereafter, Munger announced that out of concern for his students, he would be canceling the cantata. The decision was met with mixed reactions.

“My concerns about student performers’ safety were valid,” Munger said Sept. 25. “I have continued to get feedback which is critical of my cancellation, but it is far outweighed by people who agree I did the only thing I could.”

- Advertisement -

“‘The Skies are Weeping’ is tentatively slated for an early 2005 premiere in London, as a benefit for Jews for Justice in Palestine and the Thomas Hurndall Fund,” Munger said.

Closer to home Alaskans for Peace and Justice is interested in sponsoring a performance of “The Skies are Weeping” off campus next year. UAA Provost Ted Kassier has also expressed interest in seeing that a recital is performed on campus, Munger said.

Munger said the hate mail he was receiving has subsided significantly since last spring.

“I’m sure that will change once a production of the work is once again scheduled,” he said.

Munger and several other members of the Anchorage community hosted a panelist discussion on censorship Sept. 27 in the Arts Building.

Steve Haycox, professor of history said the situation with Munger last spring is one of the things that inspired him to organize the event.

“It prompted us to think that it might be a good time to raise this issue on campus as a way to raise student awareness,” Haycox said.

Haycox said he is concerned the quest for national security may easily lead to the suppression of those voices criticizing U.S. foreign policy. He said that there is more than one kind of censorship.

“Some sort of overt limitation or intimidation of freedom of expression – that’s one area,” Haycox said. “Another area is intimidation or pressure or anxiety that people impose on themselves because they fear that there may be consequences. A third area is whether or not those people who assume a public responsibility keep open the opportunity for free expression, particularly views that may irritate somebody.”

Munger said he didn’t know yet whether or not the controversy over “The Skies are Weeping” would make him less likely to choose politically charged subject matter in the future.

“All the compositions I’m working on now are apolitical,” Munger said. “At least, I think they are.”