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Classical Music, Catacombs, and Crypts: Alumnus Gives Life To Quaker Values In Deathly Places

Wary of the all-too-common and dull presentations of classical music that have failed to attract new audiences, Andrew Ousley ’01 found an opportunity to revive the art form in a hundred-and-some-year-old crypt among the cremated remains of dead parishioners. With his non-profit, Death of Classical, Andrew hosts unique and intimate classical music performances in crypts and catacombs that aim to revive excitement around classical music. “The goal of these shows is to have our audiences share something beautiful, and that is better for being shared,” Andrew said. “Those shared moments are what make life in all of its shortness and beauty worthwhile and magical to me.”

Andrew, whose Crypt Sessions concert series raked in diverse crowds and became an award-winning hit, said his appreciation for the emotional moments he enjoys with audience members and performers is largely rooted in Quaker traditions of togetherness, like Meeting for Worship, to which he was exposed at Friends. “We've had a lot of nights where everybody’s crying together. We try to create intensely emotional experiences,” he shared. “It’s about the physicality of sitting in a space and sharing time and energy with the people around you. I think a lot of that came out of my experiences with Quaker meetings and the emotion of silence.”

On top of managing Death of Classical, Andrew runs a publicity, PR, social media, and website design agency for classical music, opera, and the performing arts. Lessons Andrew learned as a student at Friends have helped him succeed in his professional life, he said. “Friends taught me how to learn and how to constantly approach life with curiosity and with the desire to dig a little deeper,” he reflected. ”That was an important part of my education and has continued at every stage of my life.”

Death of Classical’s original concert series, The Crypt Sessions, takes place in a crypt below the only active community mausoleum in Manhattan. Its newest series, The Angel’s Share, happens in the catacombs of a cemetery that is home to 600,000 graves. While these backdrops may appear morbid, Andrew insists the concert settings are not meant to be macabre. Instead, he said they are meant to serve as evocative reminders of the audience’s shared mortality and heighten the shared experience of attendees. When you are clearly presented with the shortness of life, and the evidence of the shortness of life, it can make [a concert] much more pointed and much more precious,” he noted.

As he continues finding special and spooky settings for his concerts, Andrew has reflected on how his work with Death of Classical fulfills the Friends Seminary mission to bring about a world that ought to be. “I think that when we spend time being vulnerable together and being emotionally open together, it allows us to see what is best in ourselves and each other,” he said. “That is one of the greatest strengths of humanity. So many of the problems of the world come from people not seeing what is best in each other. Hopefully, even if it’s only 50 to a 100 classical music concert-goers at a time, we can help to make changes that turn that tide.”


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