Music to die for

  • Yu-Mei Wei CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Contributed photo Contributed photo

Published: 2/25/2020 9:33:19 AM

She walked in. She sat down about 12 feet from me. She closed her eyes in some kind of meditation. Then she began to play.

Oh my God, did she play! She played most of the concert with her eyes closed. I listened for most of the concert with my eyes closed.

The pianist in the Brick Church Music series at The First Church of Deerfield on Sunday, Feb. 9, was Yu-Mei Wei. Wei is a diminutive, powerhouse pianist with a feather-like soft touch cushioned within the resounding lower keyboard governed by her left hand.

Wei performed a program of Poulenc, Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, Gershwin and Bach. It was Bach’s Chaconne in D minor, BWV1004 at the end of the first half that brought me to tears. The unbreakable wedding of the music and pianist formed a musical prayer beyond anything words can convey. Written for the violin, the Chaconne was arranged for piano by Ferruccio Busoni, no slouch at the keyboard himself!

Wei’s relationship with the keyboard, her eyes-closed capacity to perform the most intricate fingering I can imagine, and her body’s dancer-like flow with the music morphed, for me, into a oneness of sound and being. “The aim and final end of all music,” Bach once said, “should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” Amen to that. For me, in that blessed two hours removed from the hell on earth that is humankind’s present existence, Wei’s music making was an all-too-rare gift … and proof of what a human being is capable of.

During intermission, I thought about the vast distance between this beautiful, ephemeral patch of time vs. the fact that something is rotten in American political life. The U.S. (among other nations) is increasingly characterized by highly polarized, informationally insulated ideological communities occupying their own factual universes. No music, only disharmony.

Unwelcome information threatens us on both sides of the political ledger. “System justification” theorists like psychologist John Jost have shown how situations that represent a threat to established systems trigger inflexible thinking and a desire for closure.

How could it ever be possible, I mused, for everyone to hear, and for their souls to be affirmed, by beautiful music? “A daydream, John. Get over it.” In fact, the reverse is taking place. For example, Jost and his colleagues extensively review and study populations experiencing economic distress or external threat and have found that they have often turned to authoritarian, hierarchical leaders promising security and stability.

The Republican senators’ speedy exoneration of Trump marks perhaps the most dramatic step in their capitulation to the president over the past three years. The Trumpublicans deny that any law has been broken while I am not alone in seeing that our democratic security and stability is eroding.

When group interests, creeds, or dogmas are threatened by unwelcome facts, biased thinking becomes denial. Unfortunately, these facts about human nature can be manipulated for political ends. Our political outlook is grim, because it shows that facts alone have limited power to resolve politicized issues like climate change, health care, or immigration policy.

Intermission is over. I am walking back to the pew I am sitting in just 12 feet from the piano. I leave the world “out there” and reenter a bubble world of music for my soul and momentary escape from the “troubles.”

Yu-Mei Wei teaches at Deerfield Academy and at Taipei National University of Arts in her native Taiwan. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance from Indiana University and a Master of Music in Piano Performance from the University of Southern California.

I have been privileged to sit 12 feet away from a major artist only once before in my life. That was in 1997 when cellist Matt Haimovitz performed at the Montague Bookmill. Another overwhelming experience.

Emil Cioran, known for his pervasive philosophical pessimism, once noted that while they were preparing the hemlock, Socrates was learning a tune on the flute. “What good will it do you,” they asked, “to know this tune before you die?”

Well, I have an answer.

Driving home after the concert in a beautiful light shower of gently falling snowflakes, I dreamed of the day when Yu-Mei Wei and Matt Haimovitz might come together to perform a piano/cello duo like Brahm’s Cello Sonata No. 1 or Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3. Or Row, Row, Row Your Boat. It wouldn’t matter to me. It would be music to die for.

John Bos lives in Shelburne Falls. Co-founder of the Eventide Hospice Choir, he has been witness to the healing power of music. He is a contributing writer for Green Energy Times and for Citizen Truth (citzentruth.org). Comments are invited at john01370@gmail.com.

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