on boston

I have quite a few connections to Boston. Some of my closest friends are either from the area or went to school there, or spent a lot of childhood time in the region. I was literally weeping and pounding my steering wheel on the way home from an appointment this afternoon as I heard the reports coming from the live stream of WBUR that was playing on our local NPR affiliate. I was so enraged by the sheer idiotic brutality of this most cowardly of acts. Remember that famous quote of Leonard Bernstein – “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” Well, art created in the most cowardly way possible is still orders of magnitude more brave than whoever is responsible for this heinous act.

I have taken part in two endurance events, a gran fondo cycling event of 100 miles, and the 80 mile route of the Portland Century. I spent months actively training for the gran fondo, and several years, really, just getting up to the level to be able to finish such an event. The day came, and I had hardly slept the night before, I was so excited and nervous about what the day would hold for me. I had two friends from the orchestra who were riding with me, along with hundreds of other cyclists from around Oregon and Washington. The route was breathtaking, and featured one (literally breathtaking) climb that was over 3000 feet of elevation gain all on its own. The grind to the finish, on crappy chip seal roads, was a test of my mental endurance as much as my physical. When I finally rounded the last bend before the finish line, it was such an amazing experience, one that I will never forget, no matter how many additional events I do in my life.

So, I cannot even begin to imagine the feelings of those thousands of Boston Marathon racers who’ve spent years training and running qualifying races just in order to be able to take part in the queen of marathons. Many were just a mile or two from the finish when their race was over. Even those who finished now are finishers of the most infamous Boston Marathon in history. Then there are those who were nearby when the bombing happened, and will be traumatized for who knows how long, along with their families who were waiting to greet them at the finish line. My wife has done the Portland Marathon, and the reunion at the end is one of the most satisfying and joyous events one can have around a sporting event. It’s huge. I feel so sad for all the participants and their families. I mourn for those who were killed, one an 8 year old child, and weep for those who have been grievously injured just taking part in something that they love.

I wonder what I can do.

Then I remember that I do it already, every day. I make art. Art that takes us out of the insanity of everyday life, and into a place where magical flutists enchant people into dancing, puppets come to life, and elephants dance the ballet. People take the arts for granted all the time. But where do we turn when we need solace? We might read a story (art), watch a movie (art), listen to music (art), or just play our instrument (art). Art takes the good, the horrific, and the mundane, and turns them into artifacts of enduring worth. Art is transformative. Art is essential to the process of catharsis, wherein we see or experience acts both horrific and extraordinary and are transformed emotionally by their being subsumed into an act of artistic expression. In this way art triumphs over evil, even as it depicts it with unsparing and unflinching realism.

So, please, come to the symphony tonight. You’ll hear some incredible playing, of works that will take you out of the events of today, and will make your rest easier, and your heart lighter. That’s what we’re here for.


I was initially happy to notice this line in a recent New York Times review of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at Carnegie Hall:

To a large extent, the power behind these surges comes from the lower string section and the trombones, who in the Bruckner symphony, in particular, seemed to form the ensemble’s backbone.

Then got sad as I realized how meager our lower string section complements are kept due to monetary concerns.

right war, wrong enemy

These are what the Chinese would call ‘interesting’ times – as in the curse ‘may you live in interesting times’ – for orchestras and their musicians. As if coordinated by an invisible hand – cough, wink, nudge – a series of boards and their managements have made the decision that their problems are solely due to the unnecessarily high cost of their labor force – the musicians. Unlike a company that, say, makes cars, the people in an orchestra are the product. Without them, there is no music. The conductor can show up, but he won’t make much of a sound with his arms unless he flaps them really hard. And, like the NFL referees, experience matters. An orchestra full of just out of conservatory graduates would sound pretty good, but orchestras are artistic organisms that take generations to build and perfect. The experience and grounding of the senior players mixes with the youth and virtuosity (which the veteran players also possess, believe me!) and results in a sort of group-think alchemy that is extremely hard to describe, but is an undeniable part of what makes an ensemble great. Continue reading “right war, wrong enemy”