I originally wrote this post in 2006 for the World Pantheist Movement Community list. I have just recently learned of the death of one of my friends mentioned here, and, in fact, two of them have now died, so I’m re-sharing this post, with a couple of corrections and a comment at the end, in memory of Sherry Austin and Rod Skogen. It was one of those special evenings I will always remember.
Last night I went to see a repertory symphony production of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” at the Brevard Music Center in Brevard, NC, located in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina.
As their own website states: “…the Brevard Music Center (BMC) has been providing young musicians with the opportunity to develop their talents for sixty-eight years…Each summer more than 400 students, ages 14 through post-college, join professional musicians to eat, breathe and sleep music for seven weeks. In addition to a rigorous schedule of instruction, students collaborate with faculty and guest artists in more than eighty public performances…The combination of studying with distinguished professional musicians and an intense performance schedule sets the Brevard Music Center apart from other summer music institutions and gives students the opportunity to understand the world of a professional musician.”
This performance was done in conjunction with the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute of Rosman, NC (PARI). PARI provided images from NASA and the Hubble telescope of the planets and space on a big screen during the performance. Yes, I wish the screen had been bigger (I had pictured the planets swirling around overhead, but I understand that would be distracting to the musicians), but even so, it was a great performance. The music was beautiful (I love Jupiter) and the images beautiful also, and fascinating. Our universe is unbelievably breathtaking when seen from the telescope. I also know that other orchestras are doing this now, combining musical performances with visual scenes, but it was a first for Brevard and a first for me.
What made this event even more spectacular in my mind (besides the dinner at a huge Chinese restaurant and better yet, the good company) was the fact that it was held in an auditorium that’s actually more of an amphitheatre, two sides completely open, the stage totally protected. It had just come a whopper of a thunderstorm and was still drizzling rain, with lightning flashing in the distance, the late-evening sky was darkening, and all lights were turned off except the lamps that lit up the music stands on stage, and a bit of moon was starting to shine through clouds and tall trees. This is an area so beautiful and natural, full of a variety of native trees and shrubs, singing crickets and other night sounds, and the aroma of summer scents. Our seats were right on the edge of outside (fortunately, the rain and lightning didn’t get too close), and the effect was truly awesome! A bit of a cool breeze, too. Yes, it would have also been amazing to have had a clear dark sky full of twinkling stars, but somehow the misty rain, slice of moon, and distant lightning streaks seemed perfect.
One of my friends thought we had gotten bad seats, sitting on the edge like that, and my response was, “Hey, I’m a pantheist, remember? I love this!” It was truly perfect for me, nature at its finest accompanied by the stirring music. Dare I say it? Corny, I know, but music and nature in lovely harmony.
Comment: As I re-read this for the first time in years, I’m struck by a couple of things. The storm started while we were in the restaurant, one of the worst thunderstorms I’ve seen, and the mountains get some good ones, but with perfect precision, the worst of it had passed by the time the show started right as darkness set in, coming a little earlier that night with the cloudy sky. The bittersweet part? The memories and how much things have changed. I’m no longer a member of that Pantheist group, and as for the friendships, well, they seemed to be on a path to long-lasting, only to slowly drift apart, and years later discovering that two of those people have passed on, way too young. The internet is so good at bringing people together, as it did with these two friends and me, and we were able to spend time together in person on several occasions and have several good conversations face-to-face and on the phone, but how many online friendships never move past the computer keyboard, making it easier for people to put distance between themselves, often without knowing why, or where they are, or even if they’re still alive at all. Some of these online relationships become deeper, but I think many of them are really pretty superficial. Regardless, these two people, Sherry and Rod, touched me. For a brief time, we shared pantheism (via a local pantheist group) and nature together in these beautiful mountains we call home. They were intelligent and witty and clever, and I’m still remembering them nine years later. Things they said and taught me, ways they talked and thought and shared, helped make me who I am today. It was a perfect night that has lingered with me and I remember it quite happily, but now tinged with a little bit of sadness, too.
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