My mother now lives in a Midwestern town near my brother and his wife who are musicians. On a recent visit I attended a symphony concert in which they were performing. In our ultra technological world this activity seemed like such a deliciously old fashioned thing to do. Something about getting dressed up to watch people make music made me feel like a character from Henry James or Edith Wharton. It was splendid. Sitting in the auditorium while strings, wood winds, and percussion combined to fill the space with Strauss and Tchaikovsky was remarkably refreshing. The movement of the Conductor fascinated me, how delicate and massive gestures were matched by the musicians. I surrendered to the passion and drama of the music. For a time I was not checking my phone, preparing a homily or making a mental to do list, I was merely sitting and listening with complete absorption while sound and energy blasted through me.
I cannot help but wonder if that world is disappearing? Will future generations be interested in funding such endeavors? Obviously it costs dearly to pay for a symphony orchestra, a public library, a theatre company. If I let myself, I could begin to panic at the thought of the vanishing arts and sciences. And yet, they still exist. Performances continue to be sponsored by generous donors, students are still attempting to master the cello and Shakespeare’s soliloquies are committed to memory. When I make the effort, I can see there is still a world out there of music, drama and poetry if one is willing to participate.
Why all this anxiety about the arts? Because in spite of how much I love technology (and believe me, I love it) technology can never replace the importance of people gathering to listen in silence to beautiful music or laugh together at the wit of Neil Simon. The same dynamic camaraderie that happens at a ball game occurs when we focus our collective attention on the arts. The inherent danger of technology is the isolation it encourages: the encroaching sensibility that we need not leave our cocoon of immediate gratification. Would I have gone to the symphony if my family was not performing? Probably not. It might be boring, there will be inconveniences, I’m tired. The excuses become a mountain too arduous to scale. However, when we rouse ourselves and go to the concert, see the play, attend the reading, there is balm for the soul that is starving from malnutrition. When we go, when we see, when we listen something happens inside that cannot be defined in words: we are changed, we are warmed…..the beauty of the human journey can be revealed.