Patricia Hall
Patricia Hall

SOAR hosts U-M professor Oct. 7 in Farmington Hills.

Patricia Hall, professor of music theory at the University of Michigan (U-M), has researched music prepared and performed by political prisoners at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp to be heard in programs for Nazi administrators.

Her work represents visits into the archives of what has become a museum to recall the conditions surrounding World War II. Her research was done in a building that had been a prisoners’ barracks.

Hall will tell about her work and play examples of the music during a public-invited program, “Music at Auschwitz.” It will be offered in person and digitally by the SOAR (Society of Active Retirees) Lifelong Learning Institute at 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7, at the Hawk Community Center (formerly Harrison High School) in Farmington Hills.

“I’m going to be talking about the experience I went through going to the Collections Department at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum for the first time, not fully expecting to find any manuscripts and then seeing hundreds of pages of manuscripts,” Hall said.
As Hall describes her research work between the years 2016 and 2019 in Poland, she explains that the music and lyrics were written by popular German composers outside the camp. In the camp, where she did her research, prisoners arranged and played happy dance music.

“I found 20 handwritten manuscripts with multiple parts,” she explained. “Sometimes, there would be 15 different instruments and a part written out for each instrument for that piece.

“Some of these compositions were incomplete so there were so many parts missing that I couldn’t reconstruct the pieces. For the 10 pieces that we have performed in concert, they were pretty much complete. I was able to simply transcribe those parts, and they were ready to play.”

Since bringing the manuscripts back to U-M, Hall has worked with other professors to develop a concert, since performed at the university, Zekelman Holocaust Center in Farmington Hills and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

The concert performed in Ann Arbor by music students was filmed professionally, and she will be showing excerpts during her SOAR presentation. A piece about her range of experiences was written for a journal, Music Theory Online.

Hall, who earned her doctoral degree at Yale University, taught at the University of California in Santa Barbara for 25 years before coming to U-M. She is the general editor of The Oxford Handbook of Music Censorship (Oxford University Press, 2017).

“I worked alone in the archive, but when I returned to U-M, I collaborated with my colleagues here,” she said, explaining that Professor Stephen West (music, voice) worked with the male vocal quartet to make suggestions about their acting.

“Our male vocal quartet plays the parts of the prisoner copyists so they’re sitting around a desk, and they’re standing when they need to sing. Sometimes, they walk around the group so it’s an organic unity. They also recite lines from the testimonies by the prisoner musicians describing their lives in Auschwitz.”

Testimonies were added because Hall consulted with another colleague, Eugene Rogers, director of choral activities and associate professor of conducting. He felt very strongly that audiences needed some kind of context listening to all these happy dance band arrangements.

The group preparing the program balanced their presentation describing what musicians went through in their daily lives at Auschwitz and provided translations of the German lyrics.

“I have worked in archives with manuscripts for my entire academic career, over 40 years, and I was curious if there might be surviving manuscripts in the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum,” Hall said to describe how she entered this project.

“I’m very experienced working in archives and didn’t expect to see all of this light music with titles like ‘The Most Beautiful Time of Life.’ It was a tremendous surprise reading titles like that in a concentration camp. I certainly did not expect these pieces to sound as beautiful and expressive as they do based on extremely unusual instrumentation that they had.

“We are editing and recording these pieces in a professional studio so we’re choosing the best tapes to create a recording to send to the archive. I am also contacting music departments in conservatories to see if they might be interested in performing this same program.”

SOAR presents “Music at Auschwitz” at 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7, at the Hawk Community Center, Third Floor, 29995 12 Mile, Farmington Hills. $10 members; $15 nonmembers. In-person and digital. (248) 626-0296.

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