10 Sep 2021

In Memory: Musical Reflections on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

by Kathleen Sykes

Nearly all of us remember where we were on September 11, 2001. It’s a day that left a scar on most of us—and most of us have a story to tell about it.

When the 2002 Olympics opened in Salt Lake City just five months after the attacks on the World Trade Center, we were all still shaken by those tragic events. In the midst of the tender healing process, the Utah Symphony had the opportunity honor the lives lost while sharing hope for the future, performing our National Anthem with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. This poignant moment still lives in the memory of Utahns and others from around the country and the world.

Twenty years later, it is still difficult to process the deadliest terrorist attack in human history. I was only 10 years old on September 11, 2001, and it feels like a dream. I remember looking out the window on the way to school looking for billowing smoke in the Salt Lake Valley because I didn’t understand what was happening; none of the grown-ups in my life had the words to explain. Words often fail us when we try to explain the gravity of our feelings and experiences that day.

9/11 Remembrance with World Trade Center Flag at Salt Lake City 2002 Opening Ceremony

Luckily, where words fail, music speaks.

In the years since 9/11, composers, poets, and artists have expressed what we have been trying to grapple with for the last two decades. Some have taken their time in responding—perhaps as a form of the denial stage of grief. Others responded more immediately, using their art as a means of processing their own emotions and our collective scar tissue.

Here are a few works inspired by the events of September 11th for you to listen to and explore your own feelings and memories of that tragic time in history:

“In Memory” by Joan Tower

This piece started as a work dedicated to a friend, but after September 11, it grew into a larger, emotionally complex tribute.

“On the Transmigration of Souls” by John Adams

The composer himself calls this work a “Memory Space”—a place where you as the listener can go with your own thoughts and feelings to think and feel. The best way I can describe this piece is that is a spiritual collage of the events and aftermath of what happened in New York City that fateful day. It illustrates the souls (of the living and the dead) changing from one state to another.

“WTC 9/11” by Steve Reich

Sometimes we need to go back to the day to understand what we felt and what was going on. Reich’s piece puts you right in the heart of the financial district of New York City as emergency alarms start to sound.

**Content Warning: The work uses actual emergency responder recordings and mimics sirens.**

“One Sweet Morning” by John Corigliano

Based on poetry exposing the heartbreak and horror of war, Corigliano’s piece gives hope that one day there will be peace “one sweet morning.” This work is incredibly moving and cathartic.

We hope to see you at the Utah Healing Field® 2021 – United We Stand event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11.



1. WQXR: “9/11: Responses in Classical Music”
2. Classic FM: “Classical music inspired by 9/11”
3. NPR: How Movies Have Shaped The Perception Of 9/11