JFK Assassination: Boston Symphony Relays News, Plays Funeral March (Audio)

Friday, 22 Nov 2013 05:00 PM

By Ken Mandel

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"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a press report over the wires," began Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Erich Leinsdorf to a hushed crowd. "We hope that it is unconfirmed, but we have to doubt it."

He then delivered the painful words to his audience: "The president of the United States has been the victim of an assassination." They gasp, and he announces that the orchestra would play the funeral march from Beethoven's Symphony No. 3.

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The audio from the Nov. 22, 1963 performance is one of the chilling experiences unveiled amid Friday's 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death in Dallas. Gasps and screams of shock are audible following the announcement, as the news sinks in. The announced change in the program only adds to the emotion.

Though many in Symphony Hall knew the president had been shot earlier in the day, few knew that he had died. William Shisler, the Hall's librarian, spoke to Time about his recollections from that day.

With that day's concert less than 10 minutes away, Shisler received a relayed message from conductor Leinsdorf that said, "Run to the archives, put out and distribute the music for Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. The president is dead."

Fifty years later, Shisler feels that the composition had a purpose.

"I sincerely believe that music played its part in the tragedy for all of us," he told Time. "Afterwards of course everyone was glued to the television sets for days and days. But in that period of time when we were all there, listening to Beethoven in that concert hall, we all had to respond to this terrible tragedy for ourselves. And the music sort of soothed us, reached out to each and every individual, and helped us to process what had happened."

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