If you doubt that music has power to change the world, you probably haven’t been to the same concerts I’ve attended. The latest inspiration for this feeling of unity with all humankind is the recent concert at the Fraze in Kettering where rock icon Roger Daltrey sang The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” accompanied by members of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. The union of classical musicians with rock ‘n’ roll stars provides the first glimpse of how music can draw diverse individuals together; the disparate audience at the Fraze became one the instant the music began, and the crowd remained united for at least the next hour and a half, reveling in the euphoria induced by the power of a shared meaningful experience. Camaraderie spread throughout the place as stories were shared, past concerts remembered, and people looked after the wants and need of their neighbors; a sense of universal one-ness pervaded the space.
Dayton was one of only 12 stops on the tour, which included prestigious stages such as Chicago’s Ravinia Festival and at Tanglewood with the Boston Pops Orchestra. In addition to the 47 Dayton Philharmonic musicians on stage at the Fraze, Roger was backed by a talented rock band that included guitarist and singer Simon Townshend, the younger brother of “Tommy” composer and fellow founding member of The Who, Pete Townshend. The orchestra was conducted by Broadway veteran and long-time Daltrey collaborator Keith Levenson, who every few nights during this tour steps to the podium in a different city to conduct musicians with whom he has rehearsed just once for about two hours. And it works wondrously, thrilling crowds across the country with the familiar but somehow always new chords and harmonies of a grand piece of musical history.
“Tommy” tells the tale of a boy who, after witnessing a traumatic event, loses his ability to speak, hear, and see; as in many operas as well as in lots of rock songs, plot details are a little sketchy, but that lack does not dampen enthusiasm for this ground-breaking musical tour de force. Roger himself has explained the story this way: “For me, Tommy has always been all of us; the other characters are different parts of our human makeup … We’re all trying to get through this life the best we can; for a lot of it, we are deaf, dumb, and blind. Hopefully, we end up with our eyes open.”
Roger looked great and sounded fantastic, his powerful voice and energetic presence mesmerizing the crowd from the moment he first appeared on stage until his final encore. Often the diverse individuals of all ages who populated the Fraze audience joined voices to become a unified choir, joyfully singing along, everyone loudly trumpeting the memorable line, “that deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.” After the finale of “Tommy,” members of the Dayton Philharmonic exited the stage, leaving Daltrey and his rock band to finish out the night with “Who Are You,” “Baba O’Riley,” and a new composition from Roger’s latest album, “Always Heading Home.”
Roger explained that his lovely new song is “spiritual without being religious.” “It’s about our journey and the wonder of this universe; we are all a part of it, and we can never, ever be free of it,” he said. And everyone within the sound of his still amazing voice understood his words and believed their message. We were all experiencing a wondrous journey together; the joyful sound of music had worked its magic, uniting us all for at least one brief shining moment.