Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Magical Moments in the Present

Hector Berlioz
There are moments when we are brought into the present, without volition. In rare instances we can be delivered there by sudden fear, or by a sense of imminent danger. But there are also times when we are simply overtaken by the beauty of nature or by the rare, sublime work of the human hand. Caravaggio comes to mind. Then, there are extraordinary moments when we are lucky enough to experience both together. This is when we feel utterly alive and can do little but smile at the grandeur of it all as we gratefully accept some ecstasy.

Oddly, I have had these kinds experiences while traveling in a car. The first was on the evening of November 2, 1974, when I heard Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for the first time. I was a young car passenger while Jack Degan, father of my close friend Tom Degan, was at the wheel chauffeuring us into NYC for an evening rock concert. As we crossed under Kennedy Boulevard, the New York City skyline emerged before us boldly pronouncing its illuminated symmetries. Mr. Degan seemed to know, instinctively, that this was the time to turn us on to the Rhapsody. “Kids, I want you to hear some really good music.”

While my ears were startled by the opening clarinet glissando, my eyes were captivated by the site of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings festooned with light. There were no words. The union of sound and imagery explained it all in an instant and there was nothing to do but sit back and behold. 

Today, while driving over the rolling hills of Coldenham, NY, I treated myself to Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. As the horizon opened up before me, symmetrical bands of sunlight beamed down between cumulous clouds, spraying the evening-yellow spectrum of light through the tree-dense landscape. Young leaves were able to express their subtle and various shades of bright green and chartreuse with a radiance that seemed, in chorus, to proclaim, "life!" Moments before, all had been that shady, drab green, the kind we see on a rainy day. I wondered if Berlioz had seen the same thing when he was writing the Symphonie. Some say he was high when he wrote it. Perhaps. I don’t care. He brought me into the glorious present.  

And he made my day.