Sunday, March 1, 2015

2015.03.01 Astrolatry

We managed to sneak a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert in between blizzards in this snow-blasted New England winter of 2015. To go or not to go was a discernment: our age, fear of falling, snowy, icy, uncleared walkways, transportation iffy, and very cold weather for lungs and  limbs. We had sane and sensible priorities which showed that risks clearly outweighed graces. Grace won out. We braved the weather, walked to the T, and went to the concert.
The payoff was magnificent.!

We heard a new piece, not a premier, by a composer we’d not heard of named Avner Dorman. A young man of 40, Dorman is Israeli born and now on the music faculty at Gettysburg College.

Astrolatry means worship of the stars, a practice that served the ancient world well, not only to orientate but to inspire devotion. Deities were associated with celestial bodies. Think Mars, Jupiter, Venus, etc. No star or planet named God so far. Good thing.

At first I wondered whether astrolatry was a form of idolatry, making false gods. But I decided it wasn’t. Idolatry leaves the soul and body empty; its fruit is the agony of craving, a hyper-anxious condition of constant unslakable hunger and thirst—the most stifling feelings imaginable.  Astrolatry, on the contrary, leaves souls full of the brightest awe, alive and completely content to be part of a cosmic whole in which your own place is both proper —and guaranteed forever.

I find myself seeking out the stars and moon on clear nights, and love our summer vacations in Nantucket when we can actually see the heavenly array.  It’s harder in cities, though not impossible.
Dorman writes: “While writing Astrolatry, I spent more time outside of large cities than ever before in my life. More than anything else, I found myself in awe of nature in a way I never felt before. Lightning, rain, winds, and the night sky were so much larger and more impressive than they are in the city; and for the first time in my life, I could truly understand why ancient people worshipped the stars.”

The music expresses the fall of night: from total darkness moving into the arrival of stars from the first shy individual twinklings, to groups, adding rhythm, to more and more activity and conflict, building to a cosmic panoply of such diversity and beauty you have to gasp. I’ve watched this display with my eyes, and now I have heard it with my ears. I hear the stars. And how many pieces of music give such play to the dainty introverted piccolo?  The risk we took was worth it.

These days the world is bloated with an oversupply of people, too often acting in vile ways toward one another. Terrorism and violence frighten us all, and military solutions are clearly impotent. Star gazing provides divine reassurance in ways that all our poor words, liturgies and prayers do not. And music is the handmaid of astrolatry.

I understand the attraction to the stars when they reveal their fullness. I do worship. I do thank Creator. I do adore. I do not, however, bow down. Looking up/opening up is prayer as reverent as any I can imagine.

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Four weeks and two storms later, we made a similar discernment, and again grace won out. We went to the symphony. Walkways were still icy and uncleared, but Boston was mobile again and the snow had left, leaving only a polar vortex strong enough to freeze an ocean wave in mid-course!
This time the house was packed; all the pieces celebrated spring; the audience went nuts. So ready are we for spring!

My favorite was Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto in E flat for chamber orchestra. I know I was supposed to go nuts over the Brahms and the virtuoso violinist, but........The hall was jumping with energy thanks to Stravinsky’s amazing rhythms and beats, at once diverse and consistent. Stravinsky, it seems to me, didn’t do melody, but used rhythm and sound structures to make a picture and a dynamism. Love it!  His music reminds me of my favorite Spanish painter Joan MirĂ³—whimsy in motion.

Stravinsky, I read, had been “deracinated,” forced to live and work in a culture not his own, three times: from his homeland Russia by war and revolution, to France, to America. I figured this word meant somehow yanked away from the very roots. It is a tribute to his adaptability that his Russian soul adapted and his music reflects that flexibility. Bravo!

Debussy also created pictures with music. We heard his “Images,” for Orchestra. Never saw so many players on the stage at once, and all had a part—even Tubby the Tuba.

In 1908 Debussy wrote to his publisher. He commented, with French snark, on a new piece on which he was working, called rĂ©alities—”what imbeciles call ‘impressionism,’ a term employed with the utmost inaccuracy, especially by art critics who use it as a label to stick on Turner, the finest creator of mystery in the whole of art.”
Yes, fairness to art critics: consider that mystery is elusive, almost illusory, enough that one is able only to get and give a visual or auditory impression, or intuition, of it before it vanishes. True artists capture the fleeting power of mystery—only an impression. I suppose this is one way to describe spirituality.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I think it is one way to capture spirituality, a powerful way....thanks for pulling it out and validating it.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Anything that makes us appreciate the world more has to be good.