‘Remembering and Forgetting’: honoring the victims of mass shootings


Courtesy of Bruce Dick

Dick’s daughter created the graphic for the libretto. The image was created to represent the juxtaposition of beauty next to darkness, separated by a split U.S. flag that represents polarization across the nation.

Briley Turpin, A&C Editor

On his way home from visiting friends in Pensacola, Florida in 2019, Bruce Dick turned on the radio in his car and listened in horror as the broadcaster reported on a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio. 

Stricken with grief and disappointment, his gears began turning toward an idea he said he had squandered years before: the concept of remembering and forgetting. 

Dick soon began to organize a music event to honor the many victims of mass shootings in the United States entitled “Remembering and Forgetting: An American Libretto.”

Mass shootings are defined by the FBI as any incident in which at least four people are killed by a gun. 

According to statistics used in “Remembering and Forgetting,” there were over 600 mass shootings in 2022, averaging nearly two shootings per day. According to the gun violence archive, there have been 164 mass shootings in the U.S. as of April 18, an average of 1.5 shootings a day. 

Dick, an English professor at App State, was inspired to create this piece after thinking about how quickly mass shootings are forgotten in the U.S. 

“‘Remembering and Forgetting’ reminds us of how often we forget these senseless shootings, and remember them only after another slaughter reminds us of how many we forgot,” Dick said. 

As the idea began to come together in his head, Dick reached out to three of his closest musician friends and asked if they would be interested in collaborating on the event. 

His friends agreed to help create some music that would weave well into the text and poetry, Dick said. Among these friends was Kemp Jones, a musician from Athens, Georgia who wrote the songs for “Remembering and Forgetting.”

In addition to Jones on the piano and synthesizer, the libretto will feature Rob Falvo on the drums and vibrafone, Tom Whyte on the ukulele and harmonica and Dick playing the congos and reciting text.

“I wrote the text out, and Kemp put together some of his music, and we worked on it,” Dick said. 

The piece was fully written and ready to be performed in April of 2020. Weeks before the performance, the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down, and the group could no longer perform, Dick said. 

“We had everything written pre-pandemic, but the university shut down. Three years later, we decided to resurrect the project because gun violence didn’t get better. It only got worse,” Dick said. 

“Remembering and Forgetting” follows the style of spoken word poetry, but it is set to music. He is calling the piece a libretto, otherwise known as an opera. However, Dick said the piece is not an opera in the traditional sense. 

“Certainly this is not an opera. It’s more the general idea of the term, where you have a long text put to music, so in this case, it’s kinda a generic sense of the word libretto,” Dick said. 

Dick chose to format the piece in such a way that causes cognitive dissonance for viewers by juxtaposing peaceful, enjoyable music with alarming and somber statistics about mass shootings.

“What we’re trying to do is blend harmony and beauty in music with dissonance and surrealness. It starts beautiful and ends beautiful, but in between is some discomfort,” Dick said. 

Whyte, former App State professor of anthropology, has been friends with Dick for 33 years, Dick said. Whyte said he was really impressed with the idea of creating such dissonance within the piece, and was thrilled to work on the project with Dick. 

“I think it really comes off well. You know, it’s a contradiction, and there’s irony,” Whyte said. “He’s talking about kids getting shot and there’s a beautiful ukulele melody in the background.” 

He said this contradiction is accompanied by uncomfortable feelings that help to make the piece feel more impactful for viewers. 

“It gives you a really, really strange feeling that mimics the ways we just shrug these things off and get on with our lives. We just turn our heads at the horrors happening around us,” Whyte said. 

Dick and Whyte both said they care deeply about the issue of gun violence in America, but they don’t have the answers to fix it. They said they are purely interested in paying homage to the countless victims of these recurring tragedies. 

“We’re not trying to change the world and we’re not saying we have all the answers. It’s just to call attention to something that never seems to be written about other than in a clinical way,” Dick said. 

Dick said they are not trying to rant or push a political agenda. They want to bring attention to what Dick referred to as an “American disease.”

“What we’re trying to express is the immeasurable statistics of these killings. It’s not just that you have X amount of people dead after a shooting, but you also have families and communities who are affected,” Dick said. “It’s a snowball effect.” 

Whyte emphasized how important this event is to the four musicians. He said he is appalled and deeply saddened by the increase in mass shootings in the U.S. each year.

“People are being killed, and it is devastating. Bruce deeply deeply cares about this and

really, he just wants to raise awareness and keep that awareness going,” Whyte said. 

“Remembering and Forgetting” will be held in the IG Greer Auditorium at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 30. The event is free and seats are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.