Virtue & Mischief: That noble art


By Tim Swensen - Virtue & Mischief



“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.”—Martin Luther

It was one of those silly, viral Facebook activities that planted the seed for this week’s column: “Ten performers I’ve seen. One is a lie. Which one is it?” I read my friend’s entry and tried to guess which musical artist listed was the lie—the one he’d never seen perform in person. I guessed incorrectly.

I thought about this a moment and found it a mildly interesting exercise. What musicians had I seen perform over the years? Which ones, given my age and musical tastes, were predictable? Which ones might strike people as outliers? Who could I sneak into the list, someone I had NOT seen, and fool my friends? I silently formed my scorecard and reminisced about the circumstances surrounding each concert. It was a pretty eclectic scorecard—from Bruce Springsteen to James Galway to Tom Petty to Koko Taylor to Ray Charles to Bonnie Raitt to Lyle Lovett. I’ve seen them indoors and under the stars, in arenas (one of which no longer exists), concert halls, juke joints, tennis centers, and even a former Baptist church-turned-music-venue-cathedral (the Ryman auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee).

As I reminisced about the musicians I had seen and the circumstances surrounding my attendance, it occurred to me that some of the finest concerts I’ve seen took place right here in Greenville, at our own Memorial Hall. Though there are many to choose from, Ricky Skaggs and the Kentucky Thunder and George Winston leapt immediately to mind. Both acts were tremendous, and I was so physically close I could tell you the brand of shoes those gentlemen wore as they strode onto the boards of the Hall that Arthur St. Clair built. (In the case of Mr. Winston, this is something of a “trick observation,” as he performed in his stocking feet. Having offered that observation, I confess I cannot tell you what brand of socks he wore.)

There have been many, many others I could highlight—a fact underscored (again) by the Toledo Symphony Orchestra’s bravura performance of Gershwin tunes this past Saturday night, augmented by pianist extraordinaire Michael Chertok. We saw them a year or two ago at Memorial Hall when they performed a wide array of Academy-Award-winning movie soundtracks, and it proved to be one of my most cherished family outings ever, due to its overwhelming effect on our mildly autistic son, Daniel. I thought his body was going to explode in an electro-chemical cascade of joy when he heard “Jaws,” “Star Wars” and “James Bond.”

But music regularly brings great joy and brain-expanding benefits in other contexts as well. A couple of weeks ago Krista and I had the great pleasure of watching Abby and her Concert Choir-mates compete, under the skilled direction of Chelsea Whirledge, in a state competition in Tipp City. Abby loves singing and learning different musical concepts and disciplines—a passion she’s enjoyed for years and which has been nurtured by multiple locals, such as Kari Lemon and piano instructors Shelly Warner and Mary Kell.

Our video-game-besotted son, Luke, has taken a mild shine to the trumpet, and—along with scores of other Greenville youths—participated in a concert held in the main gym of the new K-8 building last week. This gala was a veritable soup-to-nuts musical extravaganza, with numbers executed by the youngest and most inexperienced participants (5th grade; “frere Jacques,” anyone?) to those performed by extremely accomplished high schoolers. Classical, jazz, pop, movie score; woodwinds, strings, brass, percussion—every genre and instrument and skill level were on full display.

From my limited vantage point and untrained ear, however, there were at least three common threads that wove through the tapestry of the evening: (1) enormous (and gratifying) parental investment—indeed, the attendance was so great that the gymnasium was overflowing; (2) enormous child/participant investment. Brows were furrowed in concentration, fingers and hands and arms and lips and lungs attempted with all their might to coordinate properly and produce the desired sound at the desired moment; (3) enormous director investment; as usual, I was amazed by, and thankful for, the enthusiasm and commitment of Messrs. Price, VonSas, and McKibben who led their charges with elan and compassion.

From the Toledo Symphony offering “An American in Paris,” to the GHS Concert Choir belting out “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel,” to the sixth-grade band doing “Surfin’ USA”: The happy gyrations of my 13 year old autistic son serve notice what my ears and heart and brain confirm—the noble art of music is alive and well in the 45331 area.

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief