Greetings from the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.
We hope you are safe and healthy. My family and myself are spending the time hunkered down in our house.
As you all know, the last 4 months saw us slowly drifting into the biggest tragedy since the Second World War. A global event, unprecedented and frightening. In the past I had only heard stories told to me by my parents of the Second World War. My dad’s account of the bombardment of his birthplace, Dresden. Or my mom’s stories of poverty and hardship in the early 50s and their escape to West Germany with nothing but a little back pack, starting a new life.
And here we are, 2020, in a world of super computers, high speed trains and nuclear fusion. Yet, mankind is brought to its knees. Wow. The planet has spoken.
As a conductor I love many things. I love symphonic music itself. I love the interactions with the musicians. I love sharing this beauty with you, the audience. I love to be in the moment, in the zone. And, I love to LISTEN. I love listening. A simple task. Listening without preconceptions. Listening without judgment. Aaahhhh. Sounds. Chords. Harmonies. Violins, celli, trumpets. The symphony! I could do this for hours.
Well, usually it’s the orchestra I’m listening to. Those 80 highly trained musicians that come together and offer a gift every time they are performing. The gift of sharing their individuality through their extraordinary skill and talent. Performing music that started as a fragile idea in somebodies imagination many years ago. But that’s not all. At the same time those 80 musicians dissolve into oneness and create something more powerful. The originally fragile idea coming to life through many being one. That’s their gift! A miracle.
But the orchestra is not here at the moment. Yet, my listening continues. It’s hard to stop. Lots of sounds, from the news, to the voices of my family, my sons, my wife, my dog. Scary voices, hopeful voices.
As I’m not able to perform myself I’m starting to listen to music recorded by others. In a moment of despair I’m listening to Barber’s Adagio. Sad, deep. Incredibly deep. As if the entire world is crying.
In a moment of hope I’m listening to Mahler’s Adagietto. Beauty. Aware of the horrors, yet heaven seems to be opening up.
Kernis’s Musica Celestis, calm bright light is shimmering through the sounds of the orchestra. In this very moment things are good.
With Mozart’s piano concerto No. 21 I seem to be finally there. The effortless, giggling realms of the Gods.
Oh, and at some point I listened to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and The Lord’s Prayer sung by Barbra Streisand. Well, they speak for themselves.
Different from a live performance, at the end of the music there is no applause. Instead, each time something else is creeping in. Silence. Yes, there is the beating of my heart. Some birds outside. Then, quiet. And, nothing.
Ok! Now what do I do? Nothingness? Really? Well, let me continue to listen. Just so. Just for fun. I don’t have anything to do anyway at this very moment.
First the beautiful music distracted me from listening to my worrying thoughts. Then the beating of my heart and the birds distracted me. Then the all-enveloping silence itself distracted me from listening to my thoughts. Wow. One minute. Two. Maybe 5? I’m losing track.
The quiet seems to be shifting after a while. What’s happening? I’m still in the same room. I didn’t move. Yet, something is different. Did the room move?
My thoughts are quiet. No judgments. “Everything is the way it is.” I have nowhere to go today.
Ok? Now really! What’s happening? I think the room is becoming alive. My continuing to listen into the silence has some strange side effect. My awareness is shifting. Better, I seem to stop of ACTIVELY being aware. I stop. The “me” in me stops. But something else is starting. I’m becoming aware of things that I’ve never been really aware of before.
The table in the middle of the room is suddenly shining in all its humble beauty. I had never seen this before. This table. It simply is. The table as a constant conscious servant. It seems as if in this table the purpose of the entire universe is reflected by simply continuously giving. Oh my God. How beautiful.
But there is something else. I don’t feel any heaviness in the purpose of this beautiful table. It sparkles full of joy. I think I’m going crazy. But, what a wonderful crazy. The table seems to be giving joyfully. And I’m simply aware of it for the first time.
And suddenly I’m aware of the entire room as every part of it literally gives. Not just theoretically. The walls, the floor, the curtains, the window, the lamps. Everything gives. Joyfully. Everything has purpose. Active purpose right now. By simply being what each thing is.
In the distance I hear my kids playing. And in addition some existential fears are trying to make themselves heard. Ok. Stop. Let me listen a little longer. Back to the enveloping silence.
I’m becoming aware of something else in the room. Oh, it’s ME. Next to the table and the walls and window and curtain I’m aware of myself. I also simply am. Ha! I simply am! How fun. Nothing else. I’m not in the past, not in the future. I’m literally only right now. And that’s enough. I’m enough. The only difference from before is my awareness of myself.
Everything and everybody (me) in the room simply are its own purpose. Nothing else.
But not only me and the room. The whole world seems to be transformed by simply being. And in this moment, not thinking about the past or the possible future, for a tiny moment a miracle occurs.
I stop worrying.
But this time the worrying doesn’t stop because of outside distractions. For a tiny moment I stop worrying because I’m aware of my core. And this core is all there is. And for a tiny moment I’m really happy 🙂
Here is my listening list. Maybe it gives you some calm and solace. And maybe it sets you on your own miraculous journey.
Music from darkness to light
Barber Adagio, Bernstein, New York Phil
Gorecki, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, Zinman, Dawn Upshaw
Mahler, Adagietto from Symphony no. 5, Myung-Whun Chung, NHK Symphony
Aaron Jay Kernis, Musica Celestis, City of Birmingham Orchestra, Hugh Wolff
Kjartan Sveinsson Credo
Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 21, Yeol Eum Son
Haydn, The Creation, Hogwood
Grateful, Brian Stokes Mitchell
Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen
The Lord’s Prayer, Barbra Streisand