Sunday, April 7, 2013

Wish you were there.....

Sometimes a piece of music or a passage in a book fills you almost to bursting and you need to share the inspiration with everyone. The joys of music and art are many and various, but I’m talking about times when you soar to new heights of disbelief and wonder.

For me, one such moment was when Gustavo Dudamel came to Berkeley recently with his 135 person Venezuelan Simon Bolivar orchestra.  Most of the concert featured music by Mexican and Cuban composers. The climax was the signature performance of a Leonard Bernstein arrangement of his mambo from West Side Story.

Dudamel now conducts the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra and is among the most celebrated conductors in the world. A big part of the excitement and creativity he brings to music grew out of the more than 35-year-old Venezuelan El Sistema, a program pioneered by José Antonio Abreu. It put musical instruments into the hands of all young children, especially in the poorest neighborhoods, and brought them and their families into the creation of youth orchestras all over the country. The link to sistema will tell you the story; a fuller and even more beautiful telling is in the Spanish language documentary, Tocar y Luchar.

If you haven’t yet met up with Dudamel, I hope the links here to You Tube will get you soaring too.

Another such moment was when I read Of the Passing of the First-Born, Chapter XI in W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903). It’s the most lyrical and moving gem of genius planted in the middle of a remarkable sociological work on the aftermath of slavery. In its totality, this book is a masterpiece of literature as well as of social science, beautifully written, deeply personal as well as social, full of humanity and wisdom. The particular passage is about his own baby and “the veil” that is the subject of the book as a whole.

Whether or not you’ve read the book in years gone by, click on the link above and read it with me.


  1. Leon - I, also, saw Dudamel and his amazing group of young musicians at Cal this winter. Even knowing only the tiny background given in the program enhanced the joyousness of the performance, making it even more memorable than would have been the case just based on the music-making. Miraculous? Not really, but certainly inspirational.

  2. Went to the bookcase to get my copy. It evidently has migrated to the extensive Afro American/Harlem Renaissance library of Alana OBrien. The second to last paragraph is enough to make you cry.