On sep 10th 2017 Ed Simons conducted Samuel Barbers Adagio For Strings at a 9/11 remembrance concert at the Grace Episcopal Church in Nyack, New York. This made him, at 100, the oldest working conductor in the world. Ed just passed away a few days ago at 101. I had the honor, though the import would have escaped me at the time, of spending a half hour in his presence.
It was in the winter of 1955, and Benny our school bus driver had just unexpectedly deposited the kids on the bus at Skyview Acres a neighborhood several miles from my home.
“Find an adult who is home then call your parents. It’s too dangerous to drive you any further,” he said.
It was a good call on his part. There had been a brief but fierce storm while we were in school and the roads were covered with at least half an inch of slick, polished ice. He was struggling to keep the bus under control.
My memory of what happened next is as clear as the ice was that day! Auggie Sabini and I took turns using his violin case as a sled. The fun really began when we got to the hill that led to his neighbor Ed’s. We were sledding on our way to Auggie’s violin lesson. (I’ve just called Auggie to fill in a few details. He reminded me that Ed’s dog would crawl under the piano and put his paws over his ears when he played. This is how I met Ed Simons.
Ed played the violin for 91 years. He says he was listening and moving to music even longer than his 101 year span because he first heard music while still in his mother’s belly. Auggie has now been playing the saxophone for over sixty years. It’s been 33 years since I walked into a club in Nyack where Awful Auggie and the A.Gs were blowing their gritty rhythm and blues and I met and had my first dance with my wife Liz.
Time passes and the music goes on. When she was about four, our granddaughter heard the sandhill cranes trumpeting down by the Rio Grande, here in Corrales, New Mexico and remarked, “That sounds like music to me.” Now she’s seven, loves her music lessons, and hears music everywhere. Her dog does NOT cover it’s ears when she plays!)
In music there is something called the long line; in theater it’s called the spine. (propelling the characters in life liI call it the Through Line…a running thread connecting one’s passages, enduring passions and purposes. Think back to your childhood enthusiasms and wherever life has taken you, you’re likely to find that through line, even if it seems tenuous at the moment.
Fortunate ones like Ed Simons find their through line early and follow it without interruption from beginning to end. Maybe it’s something about the call of music. Pablo Casals, the legendary cellist and humanitarian was still practicing five hours a day into his 90’s. When asked why, he famously replied, “Because I’m beginning to sense a little improvement!”
What hasn’t been improving for me is my hearing. About a year ago I was lying in bed one summer night and a cricket’s chirping was driving me crazy. I sleep on my side, and noticed that when I flipped over the sound of the cricket disappeared. Thank you cricket for sending me to the audiologist for my diagnosis of asymmetrical hearing loss! With my new hearing aids I now hear birdsong on my forest rambles that I’d been completely oblivious to.
Connecting my world with stories is my through line, so this brings me to two short tales for this week’s offering.
The first, is one that has long been circulating in storytelling realms. I heard it from
teller Rona Leventhal.
Two friends were walking the noisy and bustling streets of New York, when one suddenly stopped and asked,
“ Did you hear it? Did you hear that cricket?”
“ That’s not possible,” said the other. How can anyone hear a cricket about all this noise?”
The one friend, led the other halfway down the block to a cement planter with a tree in it, and sure enough, found a cricket chirping happily among a few fallen leaves.
“ So,” asked the other, “What’s the secret of this superhuman hearing of yours?”
“No secret at all! Watch this.” The woman reached into her purse, pulled out a few coins then threw them on the sidewalk. Instantly a dozen people turned to see where the sound of the money was coming from.
“See,” she said, “It’s all a matter of what you’re listening for.”
In my last week’s post, I introduced Nasruddin, the wise fool of the Middle East. Permit me one more of his stories.
One day Nasruddin’s wife entered the house to find him playing the Kemenche, a three stringed instrument. He kept playing the same one string, and the same note, over and over and over again. This went on for hours, until finally his wife couldn’t take it any longer. She tried to be diplomatic. “Dear husband,” she said, “Do you know that when some musicians play the Kemenche, they sometimes play notes that are higher, and sometimes play notes that are lower than the one you have been playing over and over and over…”
“Of course I know!” he interrupted. “That’s because they are trying to find this note… this one I am playing.”
Oscar Wilde famously said, “ Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Perhaps amidst the noise of our daily preoccupations, we all have our own one note deep at our core, and a through line as well. Learning to listen for it, to hear it, tune to it, and dance to ranks high on the art of living. Me? I’m beginning to sense a little improvement!
It was hearing about Ed Simon’s passing that sparked this chain of thought and stories for me, so I’ll close with thanks to Ed for his long lifetime of bringing the joy of music to so many people. Bravo Maestro for such a long life, so well lived.
Photo Credit: Pixabay