An instrument made of repurposed remnants of gun violence rang out notes of inspiration and hope to SUNY Plattsburgh students.
The Instrument of Hope, a trumpet composed of bullet casings, was played in the Myers Fine Arts building lobby by Adjunct Lecturer Herm Matlock on Oct.3, after the instrument was placed in the hands of The Music Department by Adirondack Jazz Orchestra Director Matthew Pray.
The handmade trumpet made by Josh Landress, master brass technician, is a piece that gives opportunity to not only heal, but to start conversations about hope and unity within supporting those affected by gun violence.
A collaborative non-profit organization called Shine MSD, which initially formed last year, by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama students Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña. The group proposed an idea of melting down AR-15 bullet casings into an instrument, in remembrance of the victims involved in the shooting in Parkland that occurred Feb. 14, 2018.
The idea took off, as the Instrument of Hope has been traveling all over the U.S. this year, sparking conversations from New York to Los Angeles.
“With each event like Parkland, there is this urgency in the country that seems to decrease when nothing changes,” Matlock said. “Events like this keep that urgency alive.”
Students in Parkland had every intention to keep it alive, by creating Shine MSD, with an intent to raise relief funds for victims and their families, provide mental health programs centered around the arts, and help affected individuals heal— by uniting and not dividing.
A misconception it is a political message, Pray said the message is truly geared toward keeping this conversation of hope alive in difficult times. Shine MSD is using the Instrument of Hope as a conversation starter.
Last year, in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting, Garrity and Peña wrote a song called “Shine,” a medium for their personal pain and anger. The students performed their song at CNN town hall Feb. 21, sparking an overwhelming response from different social media platforms and Parkland survivors.
With the help of their parents, The Shine MSD program was born. And the conversations began.
“It is something that transcends political barriers,” Physics Adjunct Instructor Vihan Wickramasinghe said. “That’s one of the smartest ways that survivors could have got the conversation started.”
Clarinet, piano and trumpet player Wickramasinghe performed alongside Matlock at The Instrument of Hope event, meant to provide hope to students on campus that have been affected by gun violence.
“It felt like I was holding the ghost of all the mistakes of every congressman that failed and let things slip through instead of actually taking action,” Wickramasinghe said.
Even though gun regulation has been a pressing issue within educational facilities, Shine MSD’s main focus is preventing strength and hope from dying out.
Supporters of the Shine MSD movement can go online to Instrumentofhope.org, and fill out a request form for obtaining the instrument. After filling out this form and hearing back six months later, Matlock’s colleague Matthew Pray brought the message to the North Country.
The instrument initially piqued interests of onlookers at Olive Ridley’s with the Adirondack Jazz Orchestra Oct. 2. Music teachers from the area donated money to ship it from Los Angeles overnight, allowing 2,000 people to hear it in the North Country that week as it continued its travel.
Performers who held the instrument heard the message loud and clear.
“In music you can either be on the beat, in front of the beat, or behind the beat. If you’re on the back beat, something is holding you back—there’s some sort of melancholy,” Wickramasinghe said. “I found myself on the back beat. I didn’t recognize myself when I played the instrument. As soon as I picked it up, it was like I was carrying the weight of the world.”
As the instrument continues its journey through different states across the nation, event participants are encouraged to carry that weight together, to keep strength and hope in difficult times. “As long as guns are legal and available this is going to continue to happen,” Matlock said. “We can’t just accept that. We need our voices to be heard.”