Sunday, December 22, 2013
I'm the Project
I have met many new acquaintances, and some very good new friends, here in Moscow. One of them is an English teacher who has assigned me to several of her students. They are to take me places in Moscow and speak only English with me.
To me, this is an amazing opportunity to see this marvelous city through the eyes and experiences of the young people who will be leaders of the next generation.
Yesterday was the first event in the project. A young man, Sergey, was in charge of me for the day. He said we would go to a conservatory for a free concert performance involving graduates and students. He didn't know exactly what to expect, only that there would be music and it was free.
Although my words below do not begin to scratch the surface of the experience, I wanted to get the words out of my hands before they are lost. Some of these phrases were formed while I sat beneath the music's spell, others while I slept last night.
We met on one of the platforms of one of the stations that lay deep within the earth beneath the center of Moscow. I can't tell you exactly where we were from the outside of the Metro, but from within it was the Red Line station - I call it Lenin's Library because that is my scratchy translation. I scurried behind my guide glad for his height making it easier to keep track of him through the maze. Once upon ground we sloshed between the slush and the snow and the freezing rain, dodging people and traffic and flying puddles, we made our way to an impossibly old building.
If you have ever been to a piano recital you could describe the audience we joined. Parents, grandparents, instructors, siblings, roommates and assorted other supporters politely lined the small hall where the first performances would be held. Sergey read through the program and tried to explain it to me.
It's funny, really, as much as I enjoy classical music I don't have any knowledge or training in it. I don't know Bach from Chopin, but I know what I like and I know when something is properly executed. I just do. I've not had a lot of exposure to it and it's not something I would turn the radio dial to. Yet, here I was infinitely excited to be seated in this lovely place anticipating lovely music.
The hall was a room really with high ceilings framed with careful molding and painted a soft yellow. In the center was a stunning crystal chandelier. I wished instantly for my good camera when I saw it.
Sergey looked around puzzled. "What?"
"Look at that! It's so beautiful!"
He sort of laughed and shook his head doubtless wondering about his addled American project.
As the music began I watched as light and music danced together along the crystal beads playing with centuries of sound and life. These chords so new to the young rang richly with history to the old. Crossing generations, politics and lifestyles the music breathes.
I watched one particular pianist who diligently worked to maintain decorum. It was good for her to be a part of a duet as it allowed her some freedom while helping her follow the straight lines of the piece. Her hands and face danced jubilantly with each note played. Floating along the keyboard, she had forgotten her audience and played only for the joy of sound. I couldn't help but wonder where her imagination took her as the music sang to her soul.
I looked around the room more closely at the audience. It occurred to me that many of them had been raised during Soviet times, some even during Stalin's reign of terror. I watched the music behind their eyes and wished I could ask them where the memories of the music took them. Did they see days when music was taken from them and given to another? Or was music given the people in a general sense as a replacement for God? The need for beauty and purpose did not cease when the government decided that God was for fools. Rather, it found a new avenue and I wondered how that affected these lives around me.
Leaving the small hall behind, we joined the larger performance venue to see who might perform there. We were pleasantly surprised to find children showcasing their talents. Even more spellbound I sat watching them participate in centuries of timeless expression.
I considered how I was surrounded by a rich heritage of beauty and art in these rooms and yet I seemed the only one entranced by its significance. Perhaps the others had been there so many times, had heard the beautiful notes so frequently, had listened to the crescendo and fall until it had all become common place. These audience members have been here before. To them this is lovely, but not stunning.
It occurred to me that the participants in this act playing out before me were much like their American counterparts. I have watched my friends in Russia stand amazed when they encounter a divine touch from God. When His quiet amazing presence fills a room, the awe on their faces is easy to see. Often in America it is not so. Many of my American friends are so awash in His grace and presence, it has become common place to them. Bored, they look around, chat idly, play on their cell phones - and don't even notice He is there.
Afterwards I walked with my young friend down Arbat Street. Fresh new architecture lines the sky above centuries old, solid buildings. At the end of the avenue one of Stalin's Seven Sister buildings holds court. The contrasts are stark here. Western capitalism is making its mark, but not without allowance made for Russian tradition.
At the close of the day, the music warmed my heart and caused me to smile long into the wintry walk home. I find I am rather excited to be a part of this project. My next tour guide is expected to take me to an art gallery and then another will take me to the Kremlin. God is good. That's a fact!