Musicians Protest in Harmony: Violin Vigils for Elijah McClain

By Keegan Morris and Becky Nystedt |

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As protests in the ongoing fight against systemic racism and police brutality continue, the internet continues to “do its thing” and raise awareness, share information, and unite people. Now, musicians are coming together in harmony to pay tribute and raise awareness after the death of fellow violinist, Elijah McClain.

McClain was 23 when he died in Aurora, Colorado in August 2019 after police officers stopped him, tackled him to the ground, placed him in a carotid hold, and called paramedics, who then administered a sedative dose of ketamine. McClain was a massage therapist and violinist who spent his free time playing violin for kittens in animal shelters. Over this past weekend, Aurora violinists gathered to play in McClain’s honor, and Chicago-born violinist, vocalist, and songwriter Andrew Bird offered his interpretive musical tribute.

This week, the vigils continue. In Chicago, a small vigil will take place at Oz Park in the Lincoln Park neighborhood this evening at 7:00 pm. Organizer Alexandra Newman told WFMT that she "decided this morning to organize a small, spontaneous violin vigil for Elijah McClain after learning over the weekend about his tragic death and the horrific police brutality and violence that caused it." In addition to being an attorney at Grant Thornton LLP, Newman is a violinist who plays in and sits on the board of the Lakeview Orchestra. "Elijah was a violinist; a kindred spirit." After reading that the planned peaceful violin vigil in Aurora, Colorado was broken up by the Aurora Police Department with pepper spray and riot gear, Newman said she "cried all morning and felt so much pain and sadness for Elijah. So I put together the small vigil and donated to the GoFundMe campaign because I just had to try to do something today. It is a small gesture to honor his memory."

In New York City, there’s a call for all string players to join a musical violin vigil for Elijah McClain at Washington Square Park this evening at 8:30pm ET. On Instagram, vigil organizer Sean B (@_yozart_) posted sheet music for attendees to play: the traditional gospel song “We Shall Overcome” as well as what is often called the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." In addition to music, the vigil, which will also be livestreamed by Instagrammer @projectioninprotest, will feature a moment of silence.

There are numerous ways to protest injustice and inequality, and music is a vital sound in the call for change.

This article has been updated to include information about the Chicago vigil and a comment from its organizer, Alexandra Newman.