Requiem For A Teen: 'Tyler's Suite' Honors A Life Cut Short

Apr 2, 2016
Originally published on April 5, 2016 9:03 am

This week in Dallas, a singular work of music is being performed in memory of Tyler Clementi: the 18-year-old college freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in 2010, after his roommate at Rutgers secretly filmed him being intimate with another man and posted about it online.

Tyler's Suite is a touring, nine-part choral movement written by team of contemporary composers, including Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz. The songs are based on hundreds of hours of interviews with the Clementi family after Tyler died, and each song takes on the perspective of a different family member. NPR's Wade Goodwyn was at the Dallas City Performance Hall this week to see the piece performed by the Turtle Creek Chorale; hear his report at the audio link.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A remarkable piece of music is being performed in Dallas this weekend by the Turtle Creek Chorale. It's a celebration of the life of Tyler Clementi. Tyler Clementi was the 18-year-old Rutgers University student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in 2010 after his roommate secretly used a webcam to spy on him being intimate with another man, then posted about the video online. NPR's Wade Goodwyn attended a performance of "Tyler's Suite" and brings this report.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Counter to what you might expect, "Tyler's Suite" is not the story of Tyler Clementi being bullied beyond the point of endurance. Well, it's partly about that. But really it's the story of a talented young man's life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GOODWYN: Tyler Clementi was an amazing violinist. But Tyler could also ride the heck out of a unicycle. One day, he got it in his head he had to do both.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE, "TYLER'S SUITE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) People say how very clever. Was it difficult to learn? Is it skill or is it magic? Do you ever crash and burn?

GOODWYN: If you feel a Broadway vibe, that's no accident. Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz, who wrote and composed "Godspell," "Pippin" and "Wicked," among other blockbusters, helped write "Tyler's Suite," then recruited eight other composers to the project.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE, "TYLER'S SUITE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) There's a thread that they can't see running through the fiddle, wheel and me. Three in one and one in three. See I got a thread that they can't see.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing) They can't see.

GOODWYN: The songs are based on hundreds of hours of interviews with the Clementi family after Tyler died.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JANE CLEMENTI: He was a very kind and gentle and caring young man.

GOODWYN: Jane Clementi is Tyler's mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GOODWYN: Each song is written from the point of view of one of the members of the family.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE, "TYLER'S SUITE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) The shadow of two sycamores reaching out across the floor. And in the half-light of my mind, I reach out and try to find the memory of your voice again.

GOODWYN: This is Jane Clementi's song. And it's called "I Love You More." It reaches back into Tyler's childhood, the good night ritual between mother and son.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE, "TYLER'S SUITE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) I'm here to say I love you.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) I'd say I love you more.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) The way we always wanted, a thousand times before.

GOODWYN: But a conversation Jane had with her son two days before he departed for Rutgers haunts her. Tyler sat his mother down and told her he was gay. It caught her off-guard and she was stunned.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JANE CLEMENTI: We are a Christian family. And sadly, I said something that I think in retrospect he probably took differently.

GOODWYN: Tyler's mother said, God still loved him even though he was gay. She says she never meant it to be the putdown that Tyler heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JANE CLEMENTI: We were definitely in two different places at that moment in time. And that's sad.

GOODWYN: James Clementi is Tyler's older brother. And he too is gay. While every member of the Clementi family is mystified that Tyler chose to jump off a bridge, it's James who was most bewildered that Tyler didn't come to him. His song in the suite is called "Brother, Because Of You," and it speaks to James's determination to live his life in a way that honors his little brother.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE, "TYLER'S SUITE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) Tyler, because of you, Tyler, what I won't do is cower on some back room shelf (ph). Tyler, you set me free. Brother, you made me see, no matter what, to be myself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES CLEMENTI: I think that we all have struggled with that question of why did he give up? Why did he end his life and not come to us and let us know? Because we would have done anything for him and to help him. I think this really comes down to the shame and the stigma that victims of cyberbullying end up feeling.

GOODWYN: James warns that Tyler Clementi was no shrinking wallflower - smart, talented, confident and well-liked. But for the first time away from home and the family who loved him, he succumbed to a vicious attack of peer cruelty. He warns anyone can be a victim. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE, "TYLER'S SUITE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) No more cheering, no more laughter if I break my violin. And imagine me right after picking up a frame, a neck, a pin. This could be a big disaster. I can see me wiping out. So I'll pedal even faster... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.