Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup Orchestra at the Cirque d'Hiver | The Art  Institute of Chicago
Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup Orchestra at the Cirque d’Hiver. John Singer Sargent. 1879.

On a crisp summer evening a few days ago, I attended the Schuman Symphony No. 4 concert in Grant Park, Chicago. The cool wind brushed my face as I sat down on a rickety red chair in the free seats section. The stainless steel exterior of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion glimmered before me, intricate in its silver undulations and grand in its vastness. The soft light of approaching night danced through the surrounding trees and across the pavilion. Excited murmurs reverberated across the crowd, a crowd composed predominantly of the middle-aged and elderly.

The orchestral instruments quivered as they prepared to fly, entering the musical sphere with Robert Muczynski’s Symphonic Dialogues, a jovial ’60s piece with dynamic flourishes. The rhythm evoked a strange desire to dance and a reverence for a royal procession. Following this dynamic opening, Jeremy Black, the Concertmaster, entered, and the orchestra transitioned into Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto No. 3. At this point, I closed my eyes, allowing the music to envelop my being. The notes guided me deeper into my imagination. Images formed in my mind like a film, set to the score of the echoing strains.

I glimpsed the interior of a room, flooded with warm light. The flicker of a smile from a loved one. The echo of laughter. Flowers and herbs peeping over the windowsill, bursting with life. Serenity.

As in a dream, the vision suddenly changed, and I was racing up a spiral staircase. The twirl extended above me, endless. Yet, I felt someone’s hand in mine, following me, steady.

Then, as the music dipped into a forlorn strain, darkness. Bitterness creased a shadowed face; I caught the indistinct echo of tense words, conflict. A door closed. The silence and distance of estrangement.

These impressions flickered across my mind when I closed my eyes and let the music dictate the direction of my thoughts. Music is transient: the note vanishes moments after it sounds. But the images remain. The experience lived, the emotions evoked persist long after the song disappears from one’s mind.

I opened my eyes to look at my fellow audience. People of all socio-economic and ethnic ties surrounded me. Frayed sweaters and stylish coats, creased faces and smooth faces, crouched shoulders and stiff posture, haggard eyes and tranquil eyes — all listened. Across from me, an Indian man, bespeckled and balding, dressed in black, smiled. Profound contentment radiated from his face as the music engulfed him.

He, like everyone in the audience, was transfixed.

Something profound called to the audience. More compelling than the phones vibrating in their pockets and the thoughts plaguing their minds. An interruption, an enchantment. The faint-hearted few with withering attention spans trickled away, but those that remained understood the significance of the interlude.

Suddenly, from the depths of the city, the shriek of sirens emerged. Their reverberating call circled the park, rivaling the melody of the Concertmaster. Yet, the soloist persisted, issuing a cry of beauty in the face of the city’s depravity. I found this juxtaposition especially striking as I often meditate on the conflict between beauty and brokenness, light and darkness.

In that moment, among the enraptured crowd, I felt an overwhelming sense of unity. Despite our visible differences and the sirens raging beyond the park, we were transfixed. United in our awe of the music, the echoing beauty. The breath of God.

Concert in Grant Park

What about you, dear friend? Have you attended a concert before? What was your experience? And what beauty have you glimpsed this week? Let me know in the comments below. I love to hear from you. 🙂


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