During a summer of conflict and confusion in the Denver metro area, perhaps no event elicited a wider range of emotions than the violin vigil held for Elijah McClain on June 27.
Violinists from across the country gathered on the lawn of the Aurora Municipal Center to play in honor of McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after being detained by the Aurora Police Department (APD) in 2019. (McClain was a violinist.) But what should have been a moving tribute to McClain’s life and talent turned violent as the inspiring performances of “Amazing Grace” and “Hallelujah” were interrupted by APD officers, who donned riot gear and fired tear gas while condemning the assembly as unlawful.
While many know about the event from headlines and TV reports, nothing compares to experiencing it first-hand. So Shelsea Ochoa—co-founder of the “Go Outside and Howl at 8 p.m.” Facebook page and creative director of Soul Stories, a local organization that hosts conversations on personal and social topics—dedicated an episode of the new Soul Stories Podcast to the evening’s events.
“We wanted to share this story in a way that’s relatable,” Ochoa says. “The narrative tells the story as it was experienced.”
Co-produced with Soul Stories’ founder Danny Mazur and Denver journalist Chris Walker, creator of The Syndicate podcast, “How Violin Vigils for Elijah McClain Spread Nationally” aims to bring listeners to the scene of the protest. “I decided to go, expecting a moment of serenity and collective mourning,” Ochoa teases at the outset. “But it was more intense than I ever expected.”
Ochoa follows a mother who took her 15-year-old daughter, a violinist, to the vigil: “But when it got really disturbing, and I don’t care to experience it again, is when the riot police started actually coming out. Because they came out adjacent where the musicians were, and it happened right as the girls started to walk up to the stage.”
Violin strings, the crowd chanting, and pops of gas canisters punctuate her words. “This is an unlawful assembly,” a police officer announces over a megaphone. “You’re subject to arrest or the disposal of chemical agent.”
Ochoa also interviews Ashanti Floyd and Lee England Jr., violinists from the East Coast who came to Aurora to perform at the event, to explore the role music can play in healing communities, and speaks with members of McClain’s extended family for the episode.
But the most visceral moments come from the material Ochoa, Walker, and Mazur gleaned during their reporting—such as McClain’s own voice from a birthday party contrasted with audio from his interaction with APD that ultimately led to his death. “I’m an introvert,” listeners hear McClain plead. “Please respect the boundaries I am speaking.”
“We hope it serves as a great time capsule for part of the story of what happened in 2020,” Ochoa says. “How something that happened in our community spread to other communities.”