Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

The healing power of beauty

From reader Michael Wenberg in Walla Walla:

So much bad news lately, but wanted to share something quite beautiful that happened over the weekend. I’m CEO of a small town symphony orchestra that has been around since 1907 (I also play 2nd trombone in the orchestra). We just finished two performances of Sleeping Beauty in collaboration with the Eugene Ballet Company and some local dancers under the supervision of local dance instructor. I know one of the moms of one of the young local dancers, and she sent us the note below after Saturday night’s performance.
I had commented that it seemed so wrong to be heading to the ballet after the funeral service. But as I sat there, 2 rows from the orchestra, the music just poured like medicine into my heart. And then the whole theme of Sleeping Beauty seemed to fall like a gentle benediction on my daughter’s life…she will awake, she has already been kissed by the Prince of Peace!
And we will see her again. Shame on me for fearing it. So I stopped the harpist after the performance and asked her to thank the musicians for me at their next practice. Tell them that, they never know who they are playing for.

She’s right. . . we never really know. And in this case, we were playing and performing for Linda, a single mom of five kids who had just buried her oldest daughter (she had died in a tragic accident in Alaska a few weeks earlier). But Linda’s youngest daughter was dancing in the ballet, so after her daughter’s funeral, she was there, sitting three rows from the front, because dancing and music are so important to her youngest daughter. What a gift to give her young daughter. Perhaps not an action that she will fully recognize now, but something, no doubt, she will remember and cherish when she is older.
I was also struck by the unexpected, and often unrecognized impact of beauty….like most orchestras in the country, we’re struggling to get by, and I sometimes wonder if it is worth it all, but music, art and dance can sometimes touch people in the secret parts of their hearts and help bring comfort, and healing.
I was also made aware, once again, of the unexpected connections that knit communities and people together. I first met Linda a few years ago. She teaches music at small elementary school where most of the students are sons and daughters of Hispanic migrants. She came into our office after hearing about our new musical instrument lending library. We ended up letting her borrow about 30 instruments for the year.
And then a few months later, we brought the ballet to town for the first time to perform the Nutcracker, and her young, all arms and legs daughter decided she wanted to try out to be one of the local, young dancers in the performance. She had never taken dance lessons and I still remember watching her at the tryout, the only girl in the bunch who “wasn’t” dressed like a dancer because mom didn’t have two nickels to rub together. So she was there in her jeans and t-shirt and twirled and jumped with the other girls, and was then picked to dance in the Nutcracker.
After telling me about her daughter’s funeral, showing me the funeral program, she pointed at the stage and with tears in her eyes said, “life goes on.”
And then she told me that her daughter had decided to be a ballet teacher when she grew up. Nice to know we’re making a difference.

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posted March 31, 2010 at 9:13 am

Wow, Rod. That really got me right in the heart. Thank you.
My work is (in part) teaching art to kids. One of the consequences of the recession is that lots and lots and lots of local arts groups are going to the wall. Please find ways to give whatever you can — money, time, encouragement? — to local groups like this one. They are incredibly important, for lots of (crunchy, conservative) reasons.

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