Friday, February 11, 2011

lessons from the orchestral hall

My first time at a symphony was to hear the music of The Lord of the Rings films by Howard Shore.  Needless to say, it was a truly epic experience.  I had never been to anything of that sort before: the size of the concert hall, the enormity of the orchestra and choirs, that caliber of raw talent and professionalism and passion for music, all the guests dressed in their best (and not a few dressed as Hobbits and Black Riders!)  made for a truly memorable experience.

So when we saw that the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra was coming to Dryden we jumped at the opportunity.  Knowingly it would not be the same experience as the LOTR, but we were excited to hear the music and for the opportunity to see some quality entertainment of that variety in our town.  We made it an early Valentine's Day date.

As we entered the auditorium and began making our way to our seats the musicians had already taken the stage.  One could hear short snippets of sound, quiet tuning, the testing of bow on string.  A gentle air of anticipation was about them.  And it was contagious.  After a brief introduction the lights were dimmed and a hush fell upon us.  An air of ceremony.  The concertmaster, Thomas Cosbey, emerged, violin in hand, and took his place at the head of orchestra.  With a simple gesture of his hand he signaled the cue to tune.  There came a rush of slowly building sound. It felt surreal and strange: that those sounds were actually coming from those instruments.  We're so used to hearing music that is removed from actual musicians, especially orchestral music which is so often now only in our lives as the background ambiance in our films.

After the tuning the concertmaster takes his seat as first chair and the hush descends again.  Then the Maestro enters.  We applaud and the orchestra stands to honour him.  He moves to the stand and shakes hands with the concertmaster.  He greets the audience with a smile and a bow.  Then he turns and faces the orchestra.

And the music begins.

The Maestro's name is Arthur Post.  He's the new music director for the TBSO.  He immediately reminded us  of a professor we had in college, Scott Francis.  He's a very animated conductor and you can tell that he is really enjoying himself.  The performers must pick up on his joviality, for many of them were smiling as they played.  There was a freedom to move with the music.  There was reverence, but not rigidity.  It was beautiful.

Between different segments the maestro would turn and address the audience.  That's when the likeness to Scott really showed itself.  I always liked to think of Scott as one of those great orators you hear about, like Churchill.  People who can give great speeches on the spot without seemingly having given any thought to recitation whatsoever--their words and thoughts flow so naturally.  As Dean of Students he'd often give us  a rousing speech during low months like November and late January to encourage us and remind us of why we had come to learn and grow.  Though Arthur Post shared about Vivaldi and his work in a girls' orphanage, he shared Scott's energy ability to piece phrases together.  How strange it is to listen to a complete stranger who you feel you already know.

The next day I looked up the TBSO and Arthur Post online.  He had a write-up there which piqued my interest, and I thought I'd share an excerpt with you which stood out in particular:
 I believe that “classical” means “always new”. We play the classics because they always have something vital to say to us – they bring us home, even as technology spins us into ever-wider orbits. . . . By combining the new and the old in thoughtful ways, we can offer our audiences a listening experience that lingers far beyond the concert hall, and creates community for us within the hustle of modern life. 
I love this thought.  There are things in life which have something "vital to say to us"; by listening to them they somehow bring us home--closer to one another and to ourselves.  What a great choice of words!  This is something that J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, explores in his essay "On Fairy Stories".  Tolkien says that even newer stories, the good ones, that is, draw on their inspiration from the great stories of the past--the classics.  Authors are fashioning a new leaf of the great Tree of Tales.  What's so important for Tolkien is how these fairy-stories (mythopoeia) can recovery for us a sense of what is lost.  If we let ourselves be moved by them, they too can return us home.  Whether it's through music, as Post suggests, or through literature, as Tolkien demonstrated, there are ancient wellsprings which have something incredibly important to say to our current situation.  Perhaps even more so then ever before in our increasingly busy culture.

How important such moments are: that we take the time to seek them out and respond to them.  Are we so busy that we fail to hear those vital voices from the past?  I know I sometimes am.  Have I taken the time to let those truths dig their roots down deep, or am I scattered and fragmented, unable to attend to myself let alone the wisdom of others?

"Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.  Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding.  Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures.  Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord, and you will gain knowledge of God.  For the Lord grants wisdom!  From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. . . .Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go."  Proverbs 2:1-6,9 NLT

"Blessed is the one . . .whose delight is in the law of the LORD, . . .that person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither--whatever they do prospers."  Psalm 1:1a,2a,3a NIV

Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (  


  • "Meet the Maestro - Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra," Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, (accessed February 11, 2011). 
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf, paperback ed. London: Harper Collins, 2001.  See pages 56-60 on "Recovery, Escape and Consolation".


  1. Hey! It looks like it worked! I just went on and had to accept them. It's funny they hadn't showed up earlier. But at least we know they appeared!


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