I was with my 95-year-old friend Adelaide the other night. I always learn from all 9.5 of her decades when we are together. She took me to see Manfred Honeck conduct an evening of Dvorak at the LA Philharmonic at Disney Hall.
The heart-plucking tone of the evening was initially set by the surprise visit of Esa-Pekka Salonen who offered a moving remembrance of the recently departed for Diana Disney Miller, who had fought long and hard to bring Disney Hall to life, and luckily enjoyed it for a decade before she died. Salonen lead the orchestra through Ravel's "The Enchanted Garden" in her honor. Before starting he asked that we all pay our own tribute to the last of Walt Disney's children with a moment of silence at the end of the piece in lieu of applause.
At the final moment of the piece Salonen's hand was frozen, suspended as if strung up to the cathedral ceiling. Then after a couple beats of silence, the music still thrilling through all of our veins, he ever so slowly lowered his hand. Hypnotizing those of us with opened eyes his hand floated gently down, down, down, as if no human thought or muscle were involved, until it reached his side, and he declared the memorial complete.
Salonen conducted us, as if we had been practicing together for months. I had already been drawn into my heart by Ravel. Now I -- we -- were nestled in Salonen's palm. He handed us off to Honeck who lead us all on a magical ride as only a brilliant, athletic wood nymph of a conductor could. Two heart guides in one night.
As we stood applauding at the end of the evening, Adelaide said, "This is what communion is: coming together. It's not eating that wafer as the body of Christ. It's this." She acknowledged our conductor guides, but also the Hall itself, with its mesmerizing blue light on either side of the organ which calls us all to calm ourselves as the house lights dim.
She asked me to remember how we all chattered away as a unit: We, the audience, are loud until we are called together to silence. This night we were gathered in silence for a real prayer, but every night at the symphony is a communion of sorts, as she says.
What a lovely word to contemplate as Thanksgiving nears. The definition of communion is "the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, esp. when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level." My favorite moments of Thanksgivings past have been the ones when the cacophony of noise, the heightened energy of getting everything to the table at the right temperature, the exalted accolades for the cooks, comes to the moment of silence, where whether there is a prayer or a round of expressing gratitude, that we all come to focus on our union. No matter what drama has preceded the moment, the decades of family dynamics, we are together. The more intimate the sharing the better in my book. Those are the moments I remember most vividly.
Adelaide actually played a little part in making Disney Hall a reality. Likely others in the room that night did as well. No one in the room knew it that night. Nor did they know that when she sat down she was acknowledging each and every person in the hall, the ones sitting in the vertigo-inspiring seats, those behind the orchestra, those with less leg room than we were blessed to have. She acknowledged each and every one in her way. It was part of her communion ceremony, being here, now in her seat.
I wish this for myself on Thanksgiving.
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