Friday night found me sitting, for the second time in one week, in a church. Faced with the choice of looking at the four walls for the evening, or going to a concert I'd read about in the local rag, I opted for the latter.
The musicians were three:
- the pianist, a young man whose grandparents attend the church where the concert was held, which was probably the sole reason such accomplished performers found their way to our little rural Florida backwater;
- the cello player, a young woman from Germany;
- and the violinist, a young Asian-American woman.
Between them, they had impressive credentials, and had performed all over the world. I can look at the four walls any night of the week.
I have no pretentions about classical music. I either love it, or it makes me yawn. I have neither a trained nor an educated ear. The Radio Eireann Light Orchestra spilled regularly into our kitchen from the radio, when I was young, and the background music on many of the best Disney cartoons is classical. In our earnest, newly married quest for grownup culture, the OC and I bought records of all the popular composers. And who doesn't love Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops?
I do know that, without understanding why, classical music can go in through my garden variety ears and summon a sob from my soul; or, just as unexpectedly, fill me with wild exuberance.
And so it was, Friday night. I'm sure I did not fully appreciate the pieces they played. I know they played them excellently. But a live performance is as much a treat for the eyes as the ears. The constantly changing expression on the cellist's face, as she coaxed heavenly notes from her instrument; her shy smile as she looked out at the audience between pieces, and rapt concentration when the music started again; the graceful curve of the violinist's neck; the delicate and expert movements of her wrist; the pianist's effortlessly flying fingers; the sheer physical energy all three put into making the music...... Sigh. I was in the presence of angels. Talented, hardworking, dedicated and disciplined angels.
How many of us ever develop our talents to this level? Such perfection, such harmony, does not just happen. Our children tried a variety of instruments: french horn, accordian, trombone , saxophone, violin and cello. They all loved music, but music was not their passion.
And passion is what you need to achieve excellence. Passion, and maybe a little bit of deprivation. We are much too comfortable. Maybe we need sparser cupboards and harder chairs.
The nuns did not encourage passion, and warned us against having notions about ourselves, or getting too big for our britches. We were cautioned constantly against the sin of pride. Humility was the virtue to be cultivated. Ireland in the fifties was in tradition's stranglehold. Looking back, I think of all the things I could have been. I was a good student. I would love to have been an architect, but that was unheard of for a woman, and never even entered my head. I would like to have gone to art school. But that would have put me cheek by jowl with beatniks and teddy boys, artsy-fartsy fringe elements, definitely not to be encouraged. Journalism---did I even know the definition of that word? Better to stick with something traditional, something safe. Girls became teachers, nurses, secretaries, joined the civil service, became air hostesses for the national airline [although this, being new, was eyed with suspicion, as possibly bordering on the flighty], or worked in a bank. Inevitably, you'd marry and have children, and all that time and expense [they'd have you believe] would have been for naught.
The final piece was by Mendelssohn, cheerful and lively. The piano, the violin and the cello melded together in one glorious sound. The crowd rose to its feet. The musicians beamed and bowed. There was hootin' and hollerin' from the back [this is rural Florida, not Carnegie Hall!] As people milled about, I slipped out into the dark, and home, humming all the way.