August 3, 2009
The following is a slightly extended version of Second Concert, that appeared in the June publication of the new magazine Listen: Life with Classical Music.
Our string quartet played a concert at Emory University in March of this year. Whenever I’m in Atlanta, I stay with my friends, Murphy Davis and Ed Loring, ministers who run The Open Door Community, a homeless shelter in the city. They put me up in Open Door’s simple but welcoming guest quarters. Ed invited me to lunch at the shelter and asked whether I would play something beforehand. When I showed up, everyone—Murphy, Ed, the staff, and a number of homeless people were already seated at tables that formed a large square in the dining room. Ed introduced me eloquently, quoting from both Hebrew scripture and Dostoyevsky, and then I played a movement from a Bach Partita for solo violin. Following a round of applause, we all held hands while some thanked me for my musical offering and others offered prayers for loved ones in difficulty. As a performance, it was unlike any other I had ever given in my life.
The occasion was significant in another way. Murphy had just emerged from a round of chemotherapy treatments for a cancer the doctors had almost poetically termed “indolent lymphoma.” That very day, they had finally judged Murphy’s immune system strong enough for her to not only eat with others for the first time in weeks, but also to attend our quartet concert that evening. I can only begin to imagine how she felt!
That night the Guarneri String Quartet played at Emory. The quartet is retiring at the end of this season and this Atlanta concert was to be the last of many we have given in the area over the past years. The audience, which included many passionate chamber-music lovers who have listened to us for decades, gave us a standing ovation. Leaving Atlanta the next day, I thought about the two concerts I had just given: one for people relatively well off and knowledgeable about music, the other for the homeless, many of whom have likely never been inside a concert hall. As gratifying as it was to receive such a heartwarming response for the Guarneri concert, I couldn’t help wondering about my other audience, men and women whose primary concern had to be where their next meal was coming from. Had they also been affected by the music they had heard or were the notes that came out of my violin irrelevant to their lives?
The next day, I received an e-mail from Ed:
Yesterday morning I was spending a little time with C.H. He is 45, lives in the house, and is an African American. He has been big in the drug culture and spent a number of years in prison.
He told me that he had never been that close to a violin before. He has seen them on TV, but not in person. He said he was very surprised and unprepared by how deeply he was moved by the music. He was puzzled and pleased.
Thank you for what you give to others. In this instance, thank you for giving a marginalized man an insight and feeling he had never had before. You and Bach brought him joy and a newness.
Peace and justice to you.
Ed Nuessner Loring
Open Door Community
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