Thanksgiving blog (written 12 2-3) (Dallas Smith)

The world is a mess…Mumbai is still smoldering from the brutal terrorist attacks…the world’s economy is bad and going to get worse before it gets better…Yet, there is much to be thankful for.

One of these days, perhaps I’ll write a blog (actually more a diary than a blog a friend tells me) about “everyday” life in Reno. But for now, traveling stimulates my writing down my ideas and impressions, perhaps because every day is different…out of the daily routine. It is also cathartic to give expression to the accumulated feelings. This account will be in three parts: the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, the Thanksgiving holiday itself, and attending a San Francisco Symphony concert.

Interfaith Service

Susan and I traditionally spend Thanksgiving with her brother and his family in the San Francisco East Bay community of Alamo. Part of that tradition is to attend the interfaith service, at which our talented niece Rachel usually sings. Susan and I played at a service a couple of years ago, and there was mention of us doing I again next year.

This year’s service took place (for the first time) and the local Mormon temple. The various ministers taking part in the service included representatives of the following religious denominations: Mormon, Jewish, Islam, Bahai, Congregational, etc. Missing denominations included: Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian. The various expressions of thanksgiving were amazingly similar, as each minister read from his religion’s most sacred text. It was expressed that the service was open to all, regardless of religious belief, nationality, or sexual orientation. Supposedly, the absent denominations declined to take part in the service expressly because they did not want to welcome and give thanks in the company of homosexuals. There are certain religions whose adherents believe that only their co-religionists are “saved”, and that every other religion is false, its members condemned to hell.

Proposition 8, the gay marriage constitutional ban, was a major issue in California, dividing communities, schools, families and churches. In discussing the outcome, I heard the opinion expressed that the anti-gay-marriage partisans were better organized and more aggressive at promoting their opinions than the pro-gay crowd. Supposedly the pro-gays simply did not imagine, could not fathom that “liberal” California could endorse such a repressive/regressive constitutional amendment. Yet, it did. Protesters rallied after the fact…too late.

Antipathy to gays is the new racism. The bible was used in the past to justify the banning of inter-racial marriage…Despite propaganda and claims to the contrary, I’ve never witnessed one couple who would come forward and admit, that the fact that gays had been allowed to marry since the May state supreme court ruling, had somehow harmed their straight marriage. Ironically, being anti-gay-marraige is the only issue that fundamentalist Christians, Jews, and Moslems can agree on.

Thanksgiving day

The traditional turkey dinner was celebrated by the immediate Mazer family. There were nine of us around the table. Each of us was invited to say what we were thankful for. “Family being together” was the most commonly expressed sentiment. I telephoned a couple of my Georgia aunts just to wish them and my extended family there a happy day. It was sad to be reminded of the loss of Susan’s dad and my parents. “Family” gets redefined as primary members pass on.

For years, Thanksgiving has provided the opportunity for Susan and me to accompany Rachel’s singing. This year besides singing jazz standards, Rachel played the tenor saxophone amazingly well. She shows clear improvement, perhaps due to her having attended Interlochen summer music camp. Though she’s only a junior in high school, she’s starting to consider where she will go to college. Her older brother, Ari, is a student at UCLA this year.

One of the typical holiday activities with Susan’s brother and his wife Susan is to walk around the posh Alamo neighborhood where they live. Houses cost from one to several million dollars. New houses are still being built. As one of the Bay Area’s richest communities, it’s interesting to notice that there’s no visible sign of the slumping real estate market. There are no foreclosures in their neighborhood. The high economic level of Alamo residents is deeply rooted and stable. The current slump in the economy obviously affects the poorer levels of society more than the rich.

San Francisco Symphony

Susan and I had been talking for years about attending the SFO, and we finally got our chance to do so. The major works were Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, played by brilliant 29-year violinist Hillary Hahn, and Dimitri Shostokovich’s First Sympony, composed when he was a 19-year-old music conservatory student.

Music is so close to my heart that it is both gratifying and challenging to verbalize my deep feelings about it. I will try to elaborate without being trite or maudlin. It is very stimulating to be in the presence of a collection of extremely virtuoso musicians. I’ve played in several symphony orchestras over the course of my life, but none anywhere close to the level of the SFO. Susan and I have had the joy of hearing the world-class Berlin Philharmonic last year, and the world-class Detroit Symphony earlier this year. Each concert leaves us with intense memories associated with a deeply satisfying emotional experience.

Hearing a world-class symphony can be compared with attending an Olympic sporting event. The members have trained all their lives to reach the high level of artistry that is on exhibit every concert. First, there is a level of ensemble “togetherness” that astounds. The dynamics of the music seem exaggerated…the intense softs, the ecstatic louds. There is an even-ness within the ensemble as different instruments pass melodies seamlessly from one to the other. Phrasing is impressive. The tuning is perfect. One can only imagine that this is how the composers would have liked to hear their music played.

In the presence of astoundingly played music, my mind goes into hyper-creativity. I hear musical relationships and details in new ways, even though I’ve heard some of the compositions countless times before. If the musical performance is less than perfect, it’s hard to get into that special state of mind, because my critical mind is constantly being distracted by faults and imperfections in the musical execution. For example, in my life’s orchestral experience, the strings were never up to the same level as the winds. (This is typical of American orchestras. High school music programs support wind players more than strings.) In the SFO, there were perhaps sixty string players…a large section that could hold its own with the brass, woodwind, and percussion sections of the orchestra. And when the whole orchestra is playing an emphatic loud passage, the effect is magic…extremely stimulating. We left the concert in a “high” state of mind…high on the music.

As a lifelong musician, I can attest that we musicians live for those special moments, the unparalleled feeling afforded by a symphony playing in a hall with great acoustics. They are the high points of my aesthetic endeavors. I am thankful that we are able to afford the money and time to go out of our way to attend this and similar concerts. Being a symphony devotee is definitely mostly a rich person’s privilege. Our tickets cost over $80 each (which is actually less than many pop concerts, which feature far fewer that the hundred or so members of the SFO). The list of donors printed in the program goes on for many pages, starting with the over-fifteen-million dollar donation catagory. By virtue of its history and its deep financial support, the SFO is one of the world’s top ten orchestras. To have the opportunity to enjoy its music is to enter a magical world in which the music takes on super-natural properties. It was a magical evening almost beyond words.

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