I was wondering when I would fall off the “guys” wagon. It happened yesterday. My post on impending spring, the festival of Imbolc, and the feast of St. Bridget not only failed to mention any of my “official guys,” it failed to reference any guys whatsoever.
This is not what you would call big news. It’s only news, in fact, within the conceit of A Year of Guys, in which I set myself the challenge of writing about my life in dialogue with baby Silas, John MacMurray, J.S. Bach, Spencer Huffman, Manny Machado, and Roger Federer. I kept that going for 26 days, which is pretty good, I think – a testament to the depth of my team.
Today the guys are back. This afternoon I drove to Rutland to hear the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and Chorus perform Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Brahms’ German Requiem. It was Robert DeCormier’s last concert with the VSO Chorus, which he founded 20 years ago. He’s 92 now. The concert was uneven but had beautiful moments. “Sehet mich an,” sung by soprano Jonita Lattimore and the chorus was especially gorgeous. The orchestra played expressively throughout, which is much to their credit because DeCormier wasn’t showing much. (I found myself wondering what I will and will not be showing at 92.)
It’s interesting how musical performers respond to minimal direction. If everything is shown a performance can take on the quality of drones following directions rather than people making music. Conversely, if little is shown by the leader, various sub-leaders sometimes emerge, and under the right conditions they can initiate very expressive singing and playing among the sub-groups they influence. I’ve never forgotten how persuasively the Sage Chapel Choir performed after I hurt my back in between performances of a Christmas program and could barely conduct the second one.
Babies, though, are the ultimate conductors. They learn early on that a well-timed smile, scrunched-up face, happy cooing, or flailing arms, can move mountains. The response that Silas got from this smile yesterday is a response that a conductor can only dream of eliciting from players and singers. That’s because no matter how real we imagine our feelings of love or fear or joy or sorrow are when we make music music, those feelings are a mere simulacrum compared to the elemental expressive communication that takes place between child and parent.
You heard it here, folks: there are some things in life that are more important than music, and no amount of training can make a conductor’s gesture more persuasive than a baby’s smile.