I was among the fortunate audience that filled Unity Temple last Saturday night for “The Best of Unity Temple Choir.” Looking around this revered building and listening to this stunning performance, I was aware of being surrounded by the best of the best of human achievement.
Later at home, catching up with last week’s Wednesday Journal, I read Ken Trainor’s beautiful essay on an afternoon walk that led him to listen in on a practice session of the OPRF Huskies Marching Band. He describes this unexpected moment of experiencing transcendence:
“Here they were, gathered in communion, with one another and their music, talented and fun-loving simultaneously, practicing for God knows what. Their last home game? Some national competition? … It’s not about the competitions and the halftime shows. … It’s about one moment of transcendence, when it’s all working and they’re loving it. This was the pure thing itself.”
Study of evolution and history has led me to think of Homo sapiens as a transcendental species. We have a great gift: the capacity to transcend fear, adversity, suffering, and loss by coming together in community, putting differences aside, joining collective intelligence and collective passion in pursuit of a common cause. Each time we set a mission, in our personal lives and as a society, each time we overcome obstacles and our own limitations, each time we reach a new level of knowledge, or solve an intractable problem, or resolve an impasse in a relationship, or achieve as a team what no one person alone could achieve, we feel the power of community at its best, a transcendent spiritual experience. At such times, we find ourselves without words. We turn to the poets, the artists, the musicians.
Years ago, I came across these words of Daniel Barenboim that express so eloquently the elevating and civilizing power of music:
“If you wish to learn to live in a democratic society, then you would do well to play in an orchestra. For when you do, you know when to lead and when to follow. You leave space for others and at the same time you have no inhibitions about claiming a place for yourself.
“And despite this, or maybe precisely because of it, music is the best means of escape from the problems of human existence.”
Think about the number of people, the number of hours, the level of talent and degree of devotion that it takes to produce a Unity Temple Choir, or the music programs in our schools, or Handel Week at Grace Episcopal Church, or the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest.
I mention these because I have had personal experience of enjoying and being enthralled by them. I know there are many others. If our music is one measure of our strength as a community, we can rest assured that we are on solid ground.
Stephanie Ferrara is a therapist and a resident of Oak Park.