In writing the Welcome page of our season ticket brochure, I wrote the following sentence: In uncertain times, when starved for answers; music feeds the soul. This sentence has continued to linger in my consciousness.
I cannot recall a time when music was not part of my life. Who I am today, has been shaped by music and my tomorrow will be impacted by the music I ingest today. There is a great line from Les Miserables – “when the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.”
Unfortunately, in these uncertain times, some view the arts as entertainment; a luxury – one society could live without. After their imprisonment, Holocaust survivors shared stories of singing, painting and writing. Not as forms of entertainment but as a means of survival. French composer, Olivier Messiaen was captured by the Germans in 1940, transported across Germany by train and held in a concentration camp in Gorlitz, Poland. Messiaen discovered three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, violinist and a clarinetist and a sympathetic prison guard. The guard smuggled manuscript paper, pencils and an eraser into camp and permitted Messiaen time and a place to compose. In January of 1941, Quartet for the End of Time had its premiere in front of the prisoners. In a concentration camp where it would seem survival is the primary focus, why did the arts continue to survive? The arts didn’t exist in this environment because they were encouraged. Hitler himself knew the power music held when he limited exposure to specific composers and works. The arts continued to exist in spite of attempts to starve the body. The arts existed because the soul needed to be nourished – to be reminded joy existed, to escape fear, to experience beauty – to feel.
Woody Geist has suffered with Alzheimer’s for nearly 14 years. As is typical with some patients, he no longer recognizes his wife or family. Prior to the onset of Alzheimer’s, Woody was a singing member of the Grunyons. This Michigan based, male vocal jazz group has been entertaining audiences for over fifty years.
In the HBO Documentary – The Alzheimer’s Project, Woody’s wife arrives at his assisted living facility to get him ready to attend a concert by the Grunyons. As his wife dresses him, he continues to ask where they are going and who they are going to see. During the concert, Woody is introduced to the audience and his wife encourages him to go up on stage. Woody doesn’t appear to recognize anyone amid the handshakes and back pats. As he works his way down the line of singers, the Grunyons start a song. In that instant, Woody begins to sing. Every note, every harmony and every word live again. His body remembers every gesture. Driving home, he will not recall what he did and he will not remember his wife and daughter.
The arts are not something we can live without – they are the engravers of our soul. If we become lost and the mind can no longer remember – the soul is God’s record of who we are, what we feel and who and what we love.
I pray the work of the BeckRidge Chorale will leave an imprint on your soul.