Music and the human spirit


Thanks to a Christmas gift from my brother and sister-in-law, I was at Symphony Hall this past Friday afternoon with Fr. Roland. Marcelo Lehninger conducted two Beethoven pieces, the Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus and the Emperor concerto, and finished with the 5th symphony of Tchaikovsky. Javier Perianes was the featured pianist. Crowd pleasing music, to be sure, and the hall was packed.

Packed with very many old patrons. I don’t mean to be flip, but you wouldn’t see this many walkers, canes, and wheelchairs at Lourdes. Quite remarkable, really. The sheer effort to get to the concert hall and be seated looked, in some instances, heroic, not to mention getting to the bathroom at intermission. The availability of personnel in the building lending their services in different ways, along with the personal care attendants, the van drivers and the emergency vehicles parked in the vicinity – a whole cadre of helpers make possible this Friday afternoon at the symphony.

But it’s the spirit of those patrons that’s a marvel. I was thinking about this as I was leaving the hall with Fr. Roland, who recently celebrated his 93rd birthday. One reaction is surprise that these “old, old” folks are still able to get out; the better reaction is to see that their getting out may very well account for their still being alive. Without judging too quickly in individual cases, the alternative of “folding up one’s tent” is not a recipe for longevity. Our composite nature is with us to the end, and there’s no gainsaying the connections between emotional, spiritual and bodily health.

And let’s not forget the music. More than ever today, I was struck by the difference between recorded and live music. The rich, all-encompassing sound of those live instruments playing off each other in compositions of beauty and power is a tonic for the spirit. Think of Beethoven himself composing his greatest works after he was almost totally deaf. To refuse to be deterred by physical limitations, that’s a victory of the human spirit that joined many of today’s concert goers with the musical genius who drew them there.