Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A symphony that “broke like a sea upon the silent shores”


Beethoven’s astonishing Ninth Symphony had its premiere on this date, May 7, in 1824, in Vienna. Much has been written about that memorable night, and it’s easy to find accounts in many sources, online and off.

I’ve had the pleasure of performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony several times, a luxury that I treasure in memory. To sing this music is an intense physical and psychological experience, as I’ve written about often.

Perhaps the most moving account I have ever read about a person’s experience with the Ninth is a letter from Helen Keller – yes, Helen Keller – to the New York Symphony Orchestra after having “heard” that ensemble’s broadcast of the Ninth over the radio on February 1, 1924. Here it is in its entirety 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

“This alone is to be alive”

All that a man has to say or do that can possibly concern mankind, is in some shape or other to tell the story of his love ― to sing; and, if he is fortunate and keeps alive, he will be forever in love. This alone is to be alive to the extremities. It is a pity that this divine creature should ever suffer from cold feet; a still greater pity that the coldness so often reaches to his heart. I look over the report of the doings of a scientific association and am surprised that there is so little life to be reported; I am put off with a parcel of dry technical terms. Anything living is easily and naturally expressed in popular language. I cannot help suspecting that the life of these learned professors has been almost as inhuman and wooden as a rain-gauge or self-registering magnetic machine. They communicate no fact which rises to the temperature of blood-heat. It doesn?t amount to one rhyme
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), May 6, 1854.

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Well, I don’t altogether agree with Thoreau here. Oh yes, to sing is to live! That is my life. But Thoreau’s perspective is so limited …. What constitutes a song?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

“Ready to leap”


Up and down the town, men and boys that are under subjection are polishing their shoes and brushing their go-to-meeting clothes. I, a descendant of Northmen who worshipped Thor, spend my time worshipping neither Thor nor Christ; a descendant of Northmen who sacrificed men and horses, sacrifice neither men nor horses. I care not for Thor nor for the Jews. I sympathize not to-day with those who go to church in newest clothes and sit quietly in straight-backed pews. I sympathize rather with the boy who has none to look after him, who borrows a boat and a paddle and in common clothes sets out to explore these temporary vernal lakes. I meet such a boy paddling along under a sunny bank, with bare feet and his pants rolled up to his knees, ready to leap into the water at a moment’s warning. Better for him to read “Robinson Crusoe” than Baxter’s “Saints’ Rest.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), May 3, 1857.

“Chosen to be a poet”


“You choose to be a novelist, but you're chosen to be a poet. This is a gift and it's a tremendous responsibility. You have to be willing to give something terribly intimate and secret of yourself to the world and not care, because you have to believe that what you have to say is important enough.”

— Belgian-American poet May Sarton, born May 3, 1912.