Young Musicians Save America

Tonight I went to the Northern California Honor Choir and Band concert at Weill Hall in the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.* My daughter sat on my left and a woman I didn’t know and who was alone sat on my right. The choir came out first. About 170 strong, it was directed by Joshua Habermann, conductor of the Dallas Symphony Chorus.

Habermann didn’t introduce the first songs. Along with his understated conducting style, this left the attention on the high school vocalists, who sang in tune and with passion. My favorite combination! A review would tell you about the Vivaldi, the Whitacre, the beautiful Flight Song, by Kim Andre Arnesen, but this isn’t a review. This is about what’s going to save America.

The other day I wrote about the man in the Starfleet Academy shirt who paid for my groceries. I said that it’s people like this, moments like this, that are going to save America for me. I appreciate that Attorneys General Sally Yates and Bob Ferguson have stood up against the current administration, and I appreciate everything the ACLU is doing, but I’m not sure it will be enough to overcome within the next couple of years. Enough to lift my spirits—to save America for me. My blog was titled “Starfleet Academy Saves America.” I also wrote about a hug from a stranger named Margie. I started to look for moments, for people who were saving America for me.

After the first few songs, Habermann came to the microphone. He called performing music the ultimate team sport. There’s no division between young and old, different religions, socioeconomic levels, he said.

We in the music world don’t have to say the words out loud. We all know what we’re thinking. We’re about to lose funding for the arts. We’re about to have our second trumpet player deported. We are going to need the beauty of music more than ever.

One of my pet peeves is people complaining about the younger generations. I would like to challenge any one of the complainers to attend their region’s honor band or choir concert. You don’t hear 50 teenage boys singing baroque music without having hope for the future. You don’t hear a teenage girl singing a a solo in one of the finest music halls without getting a little chill.

At the intermission I asked the woman sitting next to me where she was from. She only lived about 30 miles away, and her son was going to be in the band. “He’s a freshman,” she told me. That’s REALLY impressive for Nor Cal. “He practices all the time,” she said. The percussionists came on stage before everyone else in order to set up their equipment. The woman told me her son was the one with the long hair. “He won’t let me cut it,” she said almost apologetically.

“I wouldn’t care about that,” I replied. “Are you doing drugs? Did you punch anyone today? No? Then it’s all good.”

She agreed.

The M.C. came out to announce the 5 winners of scholarships to a local music camp. One of the boys was announced as a percussionist, and the boy with the long hair looked proud, so I turned to ask the woman next to me “Was that your son?” I felt silly saying the words, because her eyes were full of tears. A freshman! That kid is going places. And not just music camp.

I looked at the band portion of the program and noticed that the second song, “the echo never fades,” was one of those pieces commissioned when a high school band student died. I pointed it out to my daughter. “I hate those,” I said. “They all sound the same.” We knew we were going to have to leave after the second song so that my daughter could get to a rehearsal, and she was bummed that we’d have to leave after a sad song. I joked that I’d want something silly written for me. My daughter duly noted it.

But when the director, Andy Collinsworth, announced that song, he said it wasn’t the typical piece commemorating a student. And in fact, Gillingham’s alto sax feature was simply beautiful. My daughter didn’t mind leaving after it. The sax soloist reminded me again that there is hope.

Young musicians saved America for me tonight, you guys. Many ethnicities, and I’m sure many religions and socioeconomic statuses on the same team and bringing art and beauty to life. They saved America for me, and I dare you to go to a concert of young people and see if they don’t do the same for you.

*If you ever visit Sonoma County, it’s worth it to see who’s performing at this gorgeous venue. Itzhak Perlman, one of the best nights of my life. Steve Martin, not too shabby.

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