MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, January 5th. Good morning to you! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Here’s commentator Kim Henderson musing on her night at the symphony.
KIM HENDERSON, COMMENTATOR: Back before COVID, Bob and Renee invited us on a double date. It’s been 34 years since my husband and I tried one of those, and it resulted in a trip to the altar. I wondered how these friends could top that.
Renee texted me a week in advance with the plan: Pick up at 4, ritzy dinner at 5, symphony at 7:30. Not a bad plan, I had to admit, especially the ritzy part, which translated into veal parmesan. The best, however, was yet to come.
Let me clarify up front that I am no arts elitist, nor am I well-versed in the original works of Romanticism. In all honesty, the closest I’ve ever been to a great composer was Row 20 at a Barry Manilow concert. But I can appreciate live music as well as the next person who took five years of piano. And this performance was the very sound of solace.
It began with the entrance of Conductor Crafton Beck in a classic tux and horn-rimmed glasses. (Now if Crafton Beck isn’t the perfect name for a conductor, I don’t know what is.) The first piece to be played was the National Anthem, so we all rose to our feet.
Next came an overture, a scherzo, and a march. Symphonie Fantastique followed. All were the works of 19th century composer Hector Berlioz, who was, it seems, a tortured soul. We knew this because the program notes told us of “fevered emotions” and opium-induced visions. Ok, so I could’ve done without the backstory. But that didn’t stop the strains of his masterpiece from awakening my senses, and as the maestro slowly and finally lowered his arms, I could not help but wonder: How does music cut the soul so?
Science explains it in terms of dopamine and endorphins , as a brain trigger along the lines of chocolate and runner’s high. Psychologist Steven Pinker calls music “auditory cheesecake” — an accident of evolution that pulls the switch on at least six of our mental faculties.
But music is a created thing, a gift of God. We make it to praise him, yes, but it’s also a common grace overflow that can’t help but seep out in other ways, too. We whistle while we work. Hum when we’re happy. Sing lullabies to soothe and to sleep.
Of course, man is pretty good at taking a good gift and distorting it. My favorite pizza joint has an ‘80s playlist. As I sit there captive under the speakers, I can’t help but do instant recall on lines from songs I should never have liked, much less imprinted on my temporal lobe as a teenager.
Oh, to be fully tuned to our Music Maker.
How all this plays into a night at the symphony I cannot say. But it’s good to go with season ticket holders who know when to clap and what to wear. As Renee explained, “Black makes you disappear, leaving only the music.”
And, I would add, the Creator behind it.
I’m Kim Henderson.