Music

Detail of Glass Sculpture by Dale Chihuly, Benaroya Hall, Seattle

Music is surely a divine gift. The sounds of harmony, the variety of instruments, the styles and individuality of each composer, musician, origin and era are part of the richness and abundance of this gift. Nations have different indigenous sounds and styles; cultural stories and legends can be woven into and expressed by a nation’s music. We can learn a great deal about the heart and history of a people by listening to its music through the ages.

My brother attended a conservatory of music for three of his four years of college, so I have an appreciation of classical music and musicians; though I am still fairly ignorant about it, I enjoy music, and love to attend live performances. I spent many hours of my youth keeping Jim company as he practiced scales on the piano, or played classical guitar pieces over and over again as part of his study, so it is fun to re-visit that world.

Last night, Gregg and I had the privilege of attending the Seattle Symphony’s concert, conducted by a friend of our friend Linda. Linda travels all over the world singing operas, so she knows musicians and conductors everywhere. She let us know that her friend was here in Seattle, and helped to arrange tickets for us (if you follow the link above, you can listen to excerpts of each piece by clicking on the small speaker icon next to its name).

We were given fabulous seats – the closest we’ve ever been to the stage – and could see and enjoy the music visually, as well as listening to it. We could see the expressions on the faces of the musicians, see the eye contact between them and study the various instruments. I had no idea, for example, that cellos could look so individual – there were at times six or eight cellists on stage, and not one of those beautiful instruments looked alike. The form of the instrument was similar – they resemble a woman’s body – but the color and finish of the wood was unique. Red, blonde, brown – so many shades and grains of wood – made me wonder about the history of each instrument. How did that musician end up with that cello? Was the tone of the sound just right for his ear? How old was it the instrument? Who made it, and where?

There was a cello solo in the Tchaikovsky piece which was pure joy to hear. The cellist was filled with passion for his music – his face reflected such intense pleasure that at times, it was hard to look away to watch his fingering and bow – and his technical expertise was stunning. Being so close to the stage enabled us to really appreciate the effort he was making and the joy he was taking in it.

The conductor was simply riveting. I have watched a number of conductors, and usually don’t pay a lot of attention to them, but because this was a friend of a friend, I was studying this one. Mr. Sondergard is very handsome, and he is a delight to watch, because he is filled with the music he is conducting. He uses his entire body to signal what he wants from the orchestra, and beyond that, as I watched his face and gestures, I felt that I could see respect, anticipation, excitement, teamwork, and embodiment of the pieces we were hearing. He seemed to feel the music in his veins, to throb with it, and the joy he radiated was contagious.

The orchestra performed three pieces, and received a standing ovation for two of them. Both times, Mr. Sondergard shared the limelight, pointing out and asking for sections of the orchestra to rise and receive its acclaim. I have never seen that kind of selflessness, to that extent, on stage. It created a feeling of community within the auditorium.

As an added treat, Gregg and I went to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in the city, Cafe Campagne. As we were eating, I told Gregg that times like this are a miracle to me: the fact that we have delicious food to eat, time to enjoy it and each other’s company, and the privilege of listening to beautiful music – it is pure gift.

I told him that it seems to me, after six years of intense emotional and physical suffering, that the absence of pain now is nearly the equivalent of pleasure. 

We took our time, savored each part of the meal, watched people come and go through the Pike Place Market neighborhood, and saw the afterglow of sunset behind the famous market sign as we strolled to Benaroya Hall. The hall has two of these magnificent sculptures by Dale Chihuly in the lobby – a feast for the eyes:

Glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, staircase in lobby of Benaroya Hall

I find music to be an inspiration and a joy, an art form which can speak for us, to us and about us – in nearly every place and time throughout history. Music – a timeless gift of expression of the human and divine spirit – is part of abundant living.

Advertisements

“Fountain of Sorrow, Fountain of Light”

August was an intense month – a mixed bag,  for me. It is not a month (as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II once said, referring to her Annus Horribilis) “on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.” Don’t you love the way she put that?

We did have a good deal of pleasure in August. As I look through the photos, I reflect with gratitude that we enjoyed a beautiful vacation, hosted a party to celebrate an important family milestone, hosted friends from out of town, took time to savor the beauty of nature (particularly at the beach) and started some exciting projects. Yet there was, running underneath all of the fun, a “fountain of sorrow.” It made me think of Jackson Browne’s song of the same name.

“I’m just one or two years and a couple of changes behind you
In my lessons at love’s pain and heartache school
Where if you feel too free and you need something to remind you
There’s this loneliness springing up from your life
Like a fountain from a pool

“Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight…

“You’ve had to hide sometimes but now you’re all right…

“You’ve had to struggle, you’ve had to fight
To keep understanding and compassion in sight…” – Jackson Browne, Fountain of Sorrow

Gregg & I struggled “to keep understanding and compassion in sight” last month, with the anniversary of Katie’s passing and all of the emotions that come with it. We had some difficult – make that painful – conversations.

Those conversations and their aftermath left me thinking about Jackson Browne’s words describing a pool of sorrow, or an aquifer, running underneath the surface of our lives. This is how it seems, sometimes, since Katie’s passing; it certainly didn’t apply to us before that. We can go along just fine for quite a while (“now you’re all right”), and then, suddenly, “there’s this loneliness springing up from your life, like a fountain from a pool” – and it threatens to drown us, temporarily.

That is why the practice of gratitude is so vital to my survival now. Practicing gratitude helps me to reflect on my blessings, to become aware of them, to connect with God (the source of all goodness), and this lifts my heart. You could say that gratitude is a “fountain of light.” I have to practice it – it is not automatic; it is a pleasant discipline, but a discipline, nonetheless. The more I practice, the more natural (and easier) it becomes.

One of the tools that has helped me in my practice of gratitude is a website called www.gratefulness.org. I signed up for a daily devotional from them, and oh, how it helps! They have even created an application (which is free) for iPhone and Android to encourage the practice. If you would like to receive their devotional, or download the free app, please follow the links above.

May you be richly blessed, and may you be aware of it!