‘This was my bouquet’: At Tree of Life, a violinist offers up music as a means to mourn


Pushing past cold fingers and the occasional breeze that would flap her sheet music, Monique Mead stood outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill to grieve with others.

To her music stand she taped a photo of Leonard Bernstein and this quote from the iconic musician: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."

And so, on a recent Sunday afternoon, at the site where 11 people were killed on Oct. 27, Mead did just that — played her Italian violin as dozens of mourners quietly paid their respects.

The 49-year-old Shadyside resident was deliberate about the choice of the songs she played: two Jewish melodies, including the prayer "Eli, Eli,” as well as “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Mead considers Bernstein a mentor and inspiration. She said she toured with him when she was a 19-year-old student; he was conducting during the well-known Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival in Germany in 1989. "He inspired my career path," she said. Now she is the director of music entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Music.

Mead was raised “in a family that was as Mormon as they come,” she said, but as she immersed herself into the world of music, she found herself drawn to what could be considered traditionally Jewish music. At age 21, she learned that her maternal grandmother was Jewish and had fled Berlin to escape the Nazis. Her great-grandmother, who was also Jewish, had been an opera singer in Kiev.

“My whole musical talent, I suppose, had come through that line,” Mead said.

“The whole violin tradition that I grew up in was the Russian tradition, and these were Jewish-Russian musicians, and so I was just bonding with a tradition that was in the end really my own.”

Ryan Loew is PublicSource's visual storyteller/producer. He can be reached at ryan@publicsource.org or on Twitter at @RyanLoew.