It was the last ‘Appalachian Spring’ and we were rehearsing Copland in a church as part of my final season in the Empire State Youth Orchestra. I loved the music, but hated the competition and the demands placed on teenagers, the politics, the whole scene. But on this March night in the earliest part of the 90’s, I listened only to the music, I got lost in the music, and it all made sense as I prepared to say good-bye. I looked around the Shaker-like surroundings. The wooden floors and pews, the grand high windows letting in the white light from outside. There was a stark beauty to it all, a barren, rustic, American beauty. Filled with promise, yet not without regret, I took it in.
The music slowed and quieted, and the heart went along with it. It perked up, it sped along, like a stream bulging with the melted snow of winter, all rivulets running into one great body: all paths lead to God. It was the last concert I would ever play as part of the Empire State Youth Orchestra. No more Melodies of Christmas, no more all-day Play-a-thons at Crossgates or Clifton Country Malls, no more five-hour practice sessions on Tuesday nights. I walked out of that church without looking back. I had done the best I could do. It had not been enough. But the music – the music stayed with me. The might and majesty of a piece like ‘Appalachian Spring’ – the beauty of Aaron Copland’s music, wrought from the inspiration of Martha Graham, of America, of the very beginning of spring – it remained a part of my heart, lodging itself safely within, barricading against the semantics and the technicalities that made the creation and execution of art so difficult.
The trumpets sound, the traditional Shaker tune races to its climax, and the stately finale dissolves into delicate grandeur, like the last mound of dirty snow, rejoining the land, nourishing the roots, coming down from such lofty and dangerous heights. The final notes dissipate almost silently into the air. There is a moment of grace in this church. My eyes suddenly fill with tears, and I wipe them quickly away. It is one of the first pieces of music that makes me cry. All the years of practice, of hard work, of mistakes and failings – they are worth it for this one window of time.