I’ve felt it. Haven’t you? We all have. You know what I mean.
Consider the diet on which we feed – or are force-fed: a virtual smorgasbord of terrible news that the TV delights to present to us in living color. In such depressing times, one struggles to find reason for hope.
And yet, I found one such reason, in one small moment: a moment of clarity, and of peace, and of (dare I say it?) hope. It happened just a few days ago. I remember it clearly: I was in the balcony of the Old Whaling Church, in Edgartown, just one person in a crowd of more than one hundred fifty, listening…
…but, let me start at the beginning:
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Almost a fortnight back, the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society presented a concert of students and instructors, the final event of the 2017 “Artist in Residence” program. The artist was cellist Andrés Vera, a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician, who has performed in countless venues throughout the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and Asia.
The AIR program was funded last year for three years through a grant from MVYouth, and through the Massachusetts and Local Cultural Councils. In designing the program, MVCMS Board Member Kim Baumhofer proposed a goal of “inspiring and encouraging students to pursue their musical development and improve their skills.” The program provided a week filled with one-on-one and group instructions, as well as presentations for island pre-school and elementary school students.
Now, Andrés Vera is a talented musician and an energetic individual. His personality and his performance are equally engaging. You see, cellists generally perform while seated, the cello leaning against them, and propped up on the endpin – the ‘spike’ at the bottom of the cello body. However, Mr. Vera uses a ‘Block Strap’, a custom contraption named for its inventor, Mike Block. The Block Strap is designed to suspend the instrument in front of the musician, allowing the artist to stand and move – or even dance – while playing.
The net result? While performing, Mr. Vera is moving. His movement is sometimes subtle, at other times active, even jubilant. He seems to draw his inspiration from the music, whether an impromptu presentation for a small group of students, or a performance for a full audience on stage.
But, back to the concert:
A number of pieces were presented by groups of students, and instructors, accompanied or led by Mr. Vera. First, he joined an advanced ensemble of private students from Becky Tinus’ studio to present “Concerto for Four Violins in G Major”, by Georg Philipp Telemann. Vera led several local elementary-school-age students, part of Becky Tinus’s Intermediate ensemble, in a performance of “Petite Tango” by Casimer Kriechbaum. Vera joined local music instructors Mike and Becky Tinus in “Spanish Vineyard”, a piece written by Mike Tinus. Then, Vera engaged instructor Rebecca Laird for a musical ‘race’, a delightful, rapid-fire presentation of themes from the third movement of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Concerto No. 2 in G minor”, part of the “Four Seasons” suite.
I was able to speak briefly with Mike, Becky, and Rebecca after the performance. Each confirmed that, as a result of the “Artist in Residence” program, they witnessed a difference in each student. Their time spent with Mr. Vera, both individually, and in group settings, had made a positive impact on their temperament, their skill, and their attitude towards their musical study. Each of the three confirmed their interest in the program’s continuance next year.
Finally, Mr. Vera was joined onstage by all of the participants of the AIR program – student and instructor alike. The last piece was a surprisingly delightful ditty entitled “Frog in a Tree”, composed by Ed Siennicki The piece was smartly arranged, so as to have parts for everyone to play, from the youngest players barely about to hold a one-eighth scale violin, to a section of cellists (students of Rebecca Lairds from both the public schools and the Montessori School), to the most advanced high school level students, some of whom will be going on to study music in college.
At its conclusion, the entire ensemble received rousing applause and a standing ovation from the audience. This was more than just the response of dutiful parents, more than just proud moms and dads, more than just loving grandparents. This was a body of neighbors, friends, and family, who came together for a communal feast of music, and I’m confident that everyone left that hall feeling better for the experience.
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Oh, yes… about that ‘one moment’ I mentioned earlier.
As introduction to the concert, Mr. Vera rhetorically asked the audience “what does music mean to you?” He suggested that everyone should think about the question, but that everyone would very likely have a different answer.
About halfway into the concert, alone on the stage, he gave his own answer to that question.
“I have to be living for those who are younger than me,” Vera said. “Music is my way to leave something for those who will come after.”
Mr. Vera then performed the “Sarabande” from Johan Sebatian Bach’s “Suite in G Major”. That piece is one of the “Suites à Violoncello Solo senza Basso”, a collection of six suites for unaccompanied cello. Written between 1717, and 1723, they are noted for their expression of three- to four-voice contrapuntal and polyphonic music in a single musical line. In essence, a single cellist can create the musical illusion of a trio, or a quartet.
I stood there in balcony of the Old Whaling Church, just one person in a crowd of more than one hundred fifty, and listened to music written three-hundred years ago. Perhaps it was just coincidence, but as Mr. Vera began the piece, the overcast skies gave way to the late afternoon sun, and brilliant light streamed through the west windows. And the place became… brilliant. I mean, it just… lit up.
And there it was: an undeniable feeling of hope. Hope for the youngest ones, still learning how to use a violin and bow to create music; hope for the older students who continue to pursue music with passion and dedication. Hope for the accomplished artisans who present their art for us, and share their dreams and aspirations through music; and, hope for the rest of us, as well.
Even those of us who simply stand in the balcony, and listen.