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“If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
—Barry Lopez
(as Badger, in Crow and Weasel)


To be nobody but yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
- e. e. cummings


Joyous Shouts

------ It was the end of a long day of concerts, rehearsals, and clinics. I was very tired and part of me said that I’d seen and experienced enough for one day. It would have been just fine to simply go back to the hotel and call it a day. Recalling other times when I’d made a similar decision, only to have my colleagues rave about what I’d missed, I decided there had to be a reason why the convention organizers had place the University of Texas Wind Ensemble in the prime slot at the end of the first full day. So I mustered the energy to climb to my favorite location in the upper balcony of the Lila Cockrell theatre in San Antonio, Texas.
------ Looking at the program, I recognized the first three pieces. Routine enough, I’d heard them all before; it wasn’t too late to call it a night. But reading the name of the composer of the piece that would end the program made me realize I was in the right place.
------ David Maslanka had instantly become one of my favorite composers a few years prior at this same convention. At that time, my alma mater presented the premiere performance of one of his pieces, “In Memoriam,” dedicated to the memory of my former conductor’s wife who’d lost her battle with cancer. Having known her well, I was inspired and impressed by the way Maslanka had managed to capture her spirit. He had used her favorite hymn as the theme, but the way he treated it was extraordinary. I was present when he congratulated the ensemble on their performance and was touched by the way he spoke to them. It was obvious to me then that this man wrote much more than music.
------ I did not arrive at the concert early enough to read the quite lengthy program notes that Maslanka had written to describe the inspiration behind his “Symphony No. 4.” Later this would prove to be fortuitous.
------ Very early in the piece it was clear that he had chosen a hymn tune once again. The Doxology, “Old One-Hundredth,” was woven throughout the piece. It also became very clear that there could be no all-inclusive central idea behind the piece. It shifted between moods and styles like no other piece I’d ever heard. Time after time the piece would build to a climax so magnificent that it surely marked the end, only to come down again, beginning anew. At one point I recall becoming completely overtaken by the music as chills raced up and down my legs and back. I remember feeling the joy expressed in the music and thinking that it reminded me of those times in my life when I have been so overcome with joy that I wanted to shout and leap, only to discover that there was no volume loud enough or no height high enough to adequately express myself. The music seemed to be experiencing the same difficulty – what a glorious and joyous difficulty.
------ As I was leaving the auditorium I saw a few of my colleagues in the lobby. The first commented, “Man! That piece just wouldn’t end!” It was in no way meant as a complaint. The next said, “I kept thinking, man this is a long piece… MAN, this is a LONG PIECE!!!…. MAN!!! THIS IS A LONG PIECE!!!!!” He had experienced the same thing I had. The more the piece refused to end, the more I wanted it not to. The louder the shouts for joy, the louder I wanted to shout. With each climax getting greater and greater, I couldn’t begin to imagine any possible way it could end.
------ I don’t recall exactly when I read the program notes, but I was absolutely amazed at the similarities between his inspiration and the many images I had throughout. The main influences on the piece were vastly different. The hymn made it easy to see that praising the creator was an influence, but what was one to make of the juxtaposition of the others? They ranged from the atrocities of war, to the grandeur of the Dakota wildlife and wilderness near his home; from the carefree feelings of happiness, to the life and death of Abe Lincoln. But the part of the program notes that made me feel truly alive and on fire was reading his description of the very feeling I had in listening for the first time that night. In words almost verbatim to my thoughts, he described that the music tries to recreate that feeling when the joy is so great that you can’t find the means to express it no matter how loud you shout.
------ Almost a year later, on a whim, I took a great risk with my high school band. Only days before our marching contest, I decided not to rehearse, but instead to take a chance and play the recording of the performance. I didn’t tell them what they were about to hear or why. All I did was give them a few guidelines. They were instructed to have a seat on the floor with a paper and pencil. They were not to interact with anyone else in the room in any way. They could only communicate with the paper and the music. They were free to write or draw anything they wanted or nothing at all, and that no one needed to ever see what they created.
------ After the recording finished, I allowed them to share their impressions, if and when they desired. I was completely inspired by the level of enthusiasm in their responses and amazed by the uncanny correlation their reactions had to Maslanka’s notes. It was almost supernatural. Reading the papers that many of the students volunteered to relinquish revealed even more synchronicity between composer’s source and young listeners’ impressions.
------ I remember debating in my graduate school Esthetics class that music is the least objectified of the arts. One philosopher called it “The objectification of the will.” I have always known music to be a language beyond words, but that was never more obvious than in my experience with this magical creation. As I search for a final sentence worthy to solidify this point, I am reminded of the joy that shouts for an adequate means of expression and find myself wanting… Wanting!… and shouting… SHOUTING!!!

© 2004 The Trill House