On May 30, 2002, nine months after the collapse of the Twin Towers, recovery crews removed the last remaining structure from the site of Ground Zero. Marked by workers’ signatures and other graffiti of remembrance, the 58-ton chunk of steel was carried out in ceremonial fashion; its departure signaled the end of an arduous, heartbreaking cleanup and the beginning of a new chapter for the city.
That column, still covered in markings, now serves as a centerpiece inside the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, which has observed May 30 every year since opening its doors. The anniversary serves to remember the thousands of workers who braved toxic conditions to remove nearly two million tons of material from the site, honoring their sacrifice and perseverance.
To mark the 17th anniversary of the recovery’s completion, the museum will debut and dedicate a new Memorial Glade. Designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, the architects behind the original memorial, the pathway is a symbolic nod to those who ushered the city through one of its most trying times.
As part of next week’s memorial event, ALL ARTS is partnering with the museum to deliver a musical tribute featuring Rufus Wainwright and interactive singing group Choir!Choir!Choir!. The two music acts last teamed up for an emotional performance of the song in 2016 at the Hearn Generating Station in Toronto, accompanied by 1,500 singers.
ALL ARTS caught up with Wainwright by phone to discuss the song and the significance of the upcoming event, which is free and open to the public. The following answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
What do you hope people take away from this performance?
We are commemorating a part of 9/11. Certainly in this day and age, on the verge of another great catastrophe politically — and I won’t get too much into that — but it’s vitally important that we meditate on the past and not make the same mistakes. This is an opportunity for us to really remember and try to learn a little.
You were in New York on 9/11. Can you tell me a little about your experience on that day?
I had one of the more blessed experiences, thankfully. It just so happened that on that day, I had a rehearsal with my friend Sean Lennon at Yoko Ono’s house at The Dakota. So, I made my way there, and certainly, the rehearsal became more of a healing experience.
What is it about these performances that you’ve done with Choir!Choir!Choir! that are so powerful?
It’s a sense of community. Choir!Choir!Choir! offers people a very immediate, electric infusion with just the art of expressing yourself vocally. You know, it has been great to be a part of that with them momentarily. It’s a sense of community. I realize that as I do well in my career, I’m also just a guy like anyone else who loves to sing a tune.
The song “Hallelujah” is important to many, many people… I’m wondering why do you think the lyrics resonate with people so deeply?
I think what’s great about the song is that it’s incredibly versatile. You can sing it at any occasion, really — a wedding, a funeral, a holiday. It has this opaque quality that allows it to fit into any occasion, whether it’s religious or secular. I think that’s why it’s so popular.
Do you have a favorite line from the song?
My favorite line is probably the most famous line. “Maybe there’s a god above/and all I ever learned from love/was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.” It perfectly illustrates the very drama of being a human being. How on the one hand it’s very beautiful, and on the other hand it’s very romantic but also quite brutal.
To learn more about the upcoming event, see the calendar listing here.