As the conductor explained the symphony piece his orchestra was about to play, I was struck by his words – “A personal journey.” This phrase perfectly reflects my own love of orchestral music. This also reflects my desire for a shared spiritual experience that is transcendent. Let me explain….
I was about 13 when my parents first took me to the symphony at Portland’s Civic Auditorium. I believe they realized their boys were growing up and they wanted to share some culture with us before we left the nest. What I remember most about that experience however are the rules. There was a dress code, we had to be extremely quiet, and our blue-collar family definitely felt out-of-place amongst the pretentious Portlanders of the 1970s.
In particular, I went to the rest room during the intermission. When I went to reenter the auditorium, the usher wouldn’t let me back in. Apparently the lights had already been dimmed and the conductor was about to make his appearance. I was frightened, intimidated, and disappointed. This was a once in a lifetime experience, for which my parents had paid a lot of money, and I was going to miss it. I overcame my shyness and pleaded with the man. He took pity on me and quietly ushered me to my seat.
It’s unfortunate that my primary memory from that experience was almost being shutout from the music. I’m thinking there was so much more there.
About 15 years later a coworker offered to take me to the symphony with her. She had an extra ticket for a traveling orchestra at the Arlene Schnitzer Auditorium. The seats were perfect! In the front rows of the balcony with a perfect view of the musicians. I remember closing my eyes and bathing in the music. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
Fast forward to last night when my Wonderful Wife and I took the opportunity to have a date night. The Southwest Washington Symphony’s Spring Concert happened to fall on a night I had off – AND, our sitter was available!
The conductor’s words described why I love the symphony. He was talking about Johannes Brahms and the piece they were about to play. To me, the idea that there could be a diverse collection of people in a single building, listening to music composed in the 19th Century, and performed by an eclectic mixture of musicians, who have been practicing for months to put a unique, but authentic reproduction of Brahms’ original intent, and yet, through this shared experience, we can each have a “personal Journey” – well, that’s just fascinating!
The three movements of the last piece took over 45 minutes to play. Later, I realized that during those 45 minutes I was free. I wasn’t a Dad, a husband, a paramedic, or a sleep-deprived, stressed person. I forgot about my taxes, the foreclosure, and my dead-end job. I wasn’t concerned with my children, the seismically challenged antique theater, or my developing sore throat. I just bathed in the music and my mind transcended reality.
According to my date, and based on my twitching, I most likely fell asleep. While not remembering that, I have no problem with it – unlike the date of the man behind me who vociferously chastised him for closing his eyes. The audience was mostly unpretentious – there were people dressed well, and a few in jeans and sweatshirts – welcome to Longview. People were coughing, talking, and clapping at inappropriate time. There were musical errors too – but none of that mattered. My soul was set free for 45 minutes of bliss.
To me, this is prayer. This is a place where my Creator can speak into my soul. When I allow myself the freedom to fully surrender, my soul transcends the minutiae of our temporal lives.
“There are two things that don’t have to mean anything; one is music, and the other is laughter.” ~Immanuel Kant