When Scott DeVeaux was growing up in New York in the 1950s, he encountered “a lot” of Civil War specters. Several relatives were named after Confederate generals, displayed Confederate figurines throughout their homes and celebrated memorabilia like trading cards commemorating the centennial of the War Between the States. Though he didn’t know what to make of the nostalgia, DeVeaux became fascinated by that period in American history.
After moving to Charlottesville in 1983 to begin his career as a music professor at UVA, DeVeaux discovered a surprise about his Yankee family tree involving his great-great grandfather Robert Bowles.
“My grandma’s grandfather was actually from Virginia,” DeVeaux says. “I went to Alderman Library to research [Bowles] and after getting debriefed by my grandmother, I found out he was in the 19th Virginia Infantry.” An “ardent Confederate,” Bowles fought and was captured during the Battle of Gettysburg.
“My great-great grandfather was in Pickett’s Charge, and I want the [Emancipation Park’s Robert E. Lee] monument to be taken down,” says DeVeaux. “It’s important for someone in my position to take a stand like this.”
As a member of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church–Unitarian Universalist for three decades, the church’s choral director for the past six and a talented jazz musician, historian and professor, DeVeaux has faith in music as a model for society. He believes elements like rhythm unite diverse audiences and performers in the same “groove,” and that versatile musicians have the power to blur lines of race, class and artistic genre. He’s also a big fan of “The Rachel Maddow Show,” which DeVeaux has “watched religiously” since the election, and he’s felt drawn toward her reporting on the Indivisible Movement.
“[Indivisible’s] principle is that you bug your own representatives, rather than senators, because they’re sensitive to their constituents,” says DeVeaux. “As soon as I heard about it, I wanted to join.”
After attending an Indivisible Charlottesville planning meeting at The Haven, DeVeaux says he was ready to do anything to support the organization. With the help of friend and fellow jazz musician John D’earth, DeVeaux coordinated an impressive lineup of artists for Disturbing the Peace: A Benefit Concert for Indivisible Charlottesville, on November 5 at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church–Unitarian Universalist.
The bill includes hip-hop artist A.D. Carson, jazz musicians DeVeaux, D’earth, Pete Spaar and Greg Howard, percussionists Robert Jospé and Kevin Davis, poet Deborah McDowell, and singer-songwriters Devon Sproule, Mariana Bell, Wendy Repass, Peyton Tochterman and Bill Wellington.
“We want people to understand the ecumenical quality of music, to play effectively with each other, to say ‘Wow, I didn’t know that a jazz trumpet player could play behind a folk singer,” says D’earth. Though he doesn’t identify as religious, D’earth’s grandparents were Unitarians and he empathizes with the Unitarian concept of religion as rooted in social justice.
“I hope people will take away the idea that, ‘Yeah, I should do that,” D’earth says. “Let’s do something and say things, not just absorb.”
Carson hopes that the concert highlights other “institutional monuments” of white supremacy, “not just those named after Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson,” he says.
“While it’s not surprising that the events of August 11 and 12 took place, what we find ourselves needing to do is improvise and collaborate to find our way forward,” says Carson. He will perform work from his recent album, Sleepwalking, Vol. 1, including pieces he hasn’t performed live.
Sproule initially struggled with where to put her energy as a musician. The current climate gives her “chronic low-level anxiety,” and she compares the stress to feeling like a child living in a house where she doesn’t feel safe. Sproule will perform “Turn Back to Love” at the concert. It’s a new tune and the culmination of her effort to find an authentic, resonant voice in the face of anger, hate and violence.
“It feels like you can’t do anything, but you definitely can,” Sproule says. “Charlottesville is a place where you can reach out to people and say, ‘I’m sorry. I’m feeling scared by myself, can I go with you to this concert or meeting?’ That’s being indivisible.”