Friday, November 9, 2007

A Delightful Evening

We are still in the “Demetria,” the days surrounding the feast of the Great Martyr St. Demetrios. Last night there was a free concert at the University as part of the Demetria. We went, in part because it featured Manolis’ and Vasilea’s daughter, Maria, as one of the two conductors. Her children’s choir won a silver medal at an international competition somewhere (Paris, maybe; I forget) and split the gold medal with China at the Berlin competition, featuring 150 children’s choirs.

It was a wonderful evening! The music was inspiring and the occasion nostalgic for Demetrios, who used to sing in the university choir. (This was not the university choir, but still…)

The program started with a children’s orchestra, featuring grade-school kids. But the beauty of it was, the two pieces they played had been especially composed for them, so were within the children’s ability to perform very well (once several adults had passed among them helping them tune their instruments). In fact, each piece consisted of exactly four notes. (Yes, I counted!) These were played first in one order, then in another order, numerous times, now softly, now loudly, now slowly, now quickly, with different instrumentation, and a very complete tympani section adding special touches – variations on a theme! I thought it an ingenious way for small children to be able to make very enjoyable music.

The children were dignified and mature for such small tykes; their parents, the whole time, waving wildly and gesticulating, vying with the conductor for their children’s attention.

Then came Maria’s gold-medal children’s choir, with Mozart’s Alleluia, the one you’ve all heard, beautiful. This choir sang three other delightful songs from around the world, and got big applause and bravos.

Then the whole conservatory, from teachers to adult students to the youngest, all together, with great gusto, played the two wedding marches everybody knows, the Verdi and the Mendelssohn, great crowd pleasers. The conductor said they were in honor of all newlyweds, especially two of the flutists playing tonight, and he introduced the young couple.

They had an excellent tuba player, too, which made me laugh, because it reminded me of Demetrios' tuba. Note to family and friends: If you have never persuaded Demetrios to play his tuba for you, put it on your "To Do" list. You are missing a real treat! He plays several other invisible instruments, too, but the tuba is his best.

We clapped until our hands were sore.

During the intermission, Demetrios began sounding rather apologetic that we hadn’t done more of this sort of thing; in fact, we’ve done just about nothing this trip. No side trips anywhere, no sightseeing. I said that was okay; we had looked after Kostas and that was the important thing, and anyway, “We’re very lucky just to be here.”

“And especially to be here together,” he added, and the tears in his eyes made me cry, too. (Play those wedding marches again, will you?)

“Okay,” I thought to myself when the intermission was over, “Now they’ve got the crowd-pleasers out of the way,” and I settled back to wait for the part one has to endure. You know, the part where the conductor thinks you need to have your musical tastes broadened, the esoteric stuff.

But perhaps the most delightful part of this wonderful concert was that it didn’t contain any such rot! It was all joyous, beautiful, and actually musical instead of cacophonous, all the way through.

The grand finale was Vivaldi’s Gloria.

“The one we listen to every year at Christmas?” I asked Demetrios.

“Yes, that one. And it was the first song I performed with the university choir, too. First Western music I ever sang.”

I just don’t know how a human being can compose anything that magnificent. More tears in my eyes. I turned to Demetrios afterward and said, “I can’t help thinking how glorious a creature is mankind! I mean, even in his fallen state, sin and all. To be able even to conceive such beauty, much less compose it and orchestrate it! To be able to play it, even to be able to appreciate it – in spite of everything else, how glorious is that!”


The next thought was, how interesting that the Western music made me think immediately of the glory of man! Never mind it is a doxology, viz., written to the glory of God. Well, to be fair, one can hardly think of the glory of man without reference to his Creator, and I did think about that, too—secondarily.

Thing is, although the words take the form of a prayer, you can’t pray to that sort of music. Well, okay, if you put our mind and heart to it, you can pray under any circumstances, but what I mean is, this music is not conducive to it; in fact, quite the opposite. For starters, it stirs up the body, which in prayer ought to be quiet.

The same goes for a lot of music I’ve heard in non-Orthodox congregations: not conducive to prayer.

We waited for Vasilea and Manolis and Stephanos, their son who is spastic. We hadn’t seen him since he and I danced together at his brother’s wedding. He came running toward me with outstretched arms.

We congratulated them on their daughter’s great musical gift, and before we parted company, Vasilea promised to tell me how she prepares the baked quince she had sent over to me a couple of weeks ago.

Demetrios told me that whole family is musically gifted. He used to envy Manolis, he said, because he could play the piano so well. “Not that I particularly like piano, but he was so talented, and I was wishing to be able to play an instrument. I thought I should study violin. However, everybody told me I was too old. I was twenty.”

I said, “The musical gift God gave you is your sweet voice.”

We got to bed some time after 1:30 in the morning. The last thing I remember is being almost asleep when I heard, “Are you asleep?”

“Not now.”

“Oh, good.”


“I’d feel lonely if you fell asleep first. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, my love, and good morning.”