Tears, Laughter, and Love

It was the simplest of exchanges. On the day poet Mary Oliver died, I responded to a reader’s acknowledgement of her passing by saying, “Yes, and I was surprised by the depth of my grief. I don’t believe I’ve ever wept at the death of a ‘celebrity’ before.” “I understand,” he said, “and as I’m certain you know, that’s all right.” Smiling, I replied, “Indeed, it is.”
And that would have been that, had I not continued to think about other simple exchanges that have shaped my understanding of life. I’m posting the story of one such exchange today: in memory of Mary Oliver, in honor of Charles Treger, and in appreciation for all who understand the role of beauty, truth, and tears in our lives.


Tucked into the heart of an old Houston neighborhood, Villa de Matel gleams with burnished light. Home to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, the convent serves the larger community as a place of worship and retreat, as well as being a retirement home for the Sisters.

A large Lombard-Romanesque Chapel designed by architect Maurice J. Sullivan serves as its centerpiece. Consecrated in 1928, it’s noted for high vaulted ceilings, German and Irish stained-glass windows, massive marble pillars, and intricate tile work. Like the Rothko Chapel, another Houston landmark, it’s impressive without being ornate. Its numinous space shimmers in the silence, inviting visitors to pause, rest, and reflect.

Apart from its ambiance, the Chapel is known for magnificent acoustics, making it a perfect venue for musical performance. A few years ago, I attended one of three Houston Chamber Choir concerts in their Christmas at the Villa series. The program, a mix of traditional carols, seasonal favorites, and sacred choral music always sells out, so a friend and I arrived early to ensure ourselves the best general admission seats.

As we watched other music-lovers arrive, I noticed a woman taking her place in the subscribers’ section of the broad main aisle. Elegant in black velvet, she’d added a Santa hat to her ensemble: vibrant and red as the poinsettias trimming the nave. As she turned to greet friends, its white pompom jiggled and bobbed; the amusing counterpoint to her conversation continued until the orchestra and chorus arrived, and she settled back to enjoy the music.

A first selection by Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria perfectly complemented the splendor of the Chapel. The music flowed easily, filling the nave with wave after wave of polyphonic delights. As it did, I noticed tears running down the cheeks of the elegant Santa’s helper. Dropping from her chin onto her velvet jacket, the tears glittered like jewels in the warm and glowing light.

She never moved, until the music died away into silence. Then, her shoulders quivered with a quick, almost imperceptible sigh as she lifted both hands to wipe her face. Oblivious to curious glances from people surrounding her — perhaps still in thrall to the music — she seemed a world away: unembarrassed, and not at all ashamed of her open expression of emotion.

Perhaps, I thought, she had met Charles Treger.

My own encounter with violinist Charles Treger took place during my senior year of high school. Having won an essay contest sponsored by our local Representative, John Kyl (R-Iowa), I received an extraordinary prize: a week-long visit to Washington, D.C. to explore the city and its political processes in the company of Congressman Kyl and his wife Arlene.

After a turbulent first airline flight, I arrived in Washington and settled into my hotel suite. During the next week, I shadowed Representative Kyl through offices, committee meetings, and discussions on the House floor. Eventually allowed to wander on my own, I prowled the corridors and tunnels of the Capitol, visited the Rotunda and Statuary Hall, and explored the Folger Shakespeare Library with a freedom impossible today.

As the week progressed, I shared the Senate’s traditional bean soup with Barry Goldwater and had a memorable meeting with Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. on the House side. I still laugh at Powell’s colorfully-phrased suggestion that I should get myself out of the #$@&%*! Iowa cornfields and move to New York. The mid-60’s may have seen the beginning of Powell’s fall, but as a member of the 88th Congress, he still was something to behold.

But none of these memories surfaced that night at Villa de Matel. Watching a tearful woman’s response to the music of Victoria, I thought only of my excursion into Washington social life; the gift of another quite extraordinary concert; its dream-like aftermath; and a brief and intensely personal exchange with Charles Treger himself.

At the time, Treger had won a contest of his own, placing first in the 1962 Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition. He moved to Iowa City after accepting a professorship at the University of Iowa, and the Iowa connection no doubt explained the Kyls’ interest in attending his concert. Like Van Cliburn before him, his victory also carried political implications; it would eventuate in his 1969 State Department-sponsored tour of fourteen European and Eastern Bloc countries.

Prior to attending his performance with the National Symphony, we dined at a private home in Georgetown. Prepared to deal with multiple courses and too much silverware, I was taken aback by the brandied figs offered as dessert, but a solicitous table companion grinned and whispered, “I don’t like them either. You don’t have to eat them.”

After dinner, as we made our way to Constitution Hall for the concert, another of the Kyls’ friends asked if I’d ever attended a formal concert. When I admitted I’d never been to the symphony, he said, “Well, my dear, what you must do is not worry about what you’re supposed to do. Just enjoy yourself.”

And so I did, until halfway through the second half of the program, when tears welled up and began streaming down my face. Despite all that I’d imagined for that night, I hadn’t imagined tears. Mortified, I collected myself, and no one seemed to have noticed.

After the concert, we stopped at the reception being held for Treger at Blair House. As I edged around the room, trying to disappear into the woodwork, Charles Treger himself suddenly appeared in front of me. “They tell me you’re with the Kyls,” he said. “What did you think of the concert?” 

Disarmed by his sudden appearance, or perhaps by the directness of his question, I responded with equal directness. “I cried.” Treger never blinked. “Good,” he said. “When?” “In the second half of the program, during the slow piece,” I said. He cocked his head slightly and paused for a moment. “That’s even better. Just remember. Crying at a concert’s never wrong.” And then he was gone.

Pondering an experience already decades old, I would add only this. On a night when he might have been forgiven for thinking primarily of himself, Treger made it a point to speak directly and honestly to a young girl drifting out of her depth at his reception. Today, his action and his words still speak: not only to his character, but also to his understanding of the nature of music and its value in our lives.

Charles Treger’s truth – a truth confirmed again and again in poetry, in music, and in art — is that responding to beauty is never wrong. We need not be embarassed by emotion evoked by art, and we need not attempt to explain away our response.

Whether filling a cathedral’s soaring space or vibrating the cramped quarters of a daily commute, whether interpreted or improvised, tapped out or sung, when music comes to life it gives life, often in unexpected and quite remarkable ways.

Play the music, not the instrument, advise the anonymous teachers: and so we play, however well or poorly. But now and then, when we least expect it, music also plays us. Touched by music’s loving bow, we discover that we ourselves are capable of resonance — in tears, in laughter, and in love.


Comments always are welcome.

147 thoughts on “Tears, Laughter, and Love

    1. In a world filled with tweets, texts, and emojis, real words still matter. And in a world increasingly given over to life-on-a-screen, real experiences still matter. I’m glad to have had such memorable experiences, and to have some words with which to share them.

    1. Strangely (or not), the first things I thought of when I read your comment was of a piece of glassware that belonged to your mother — I think it was blue? — and of her lamp, and her camellias. You wrote so often about her love of beauty. I’m not surprised that she was the one who taught you such an important lesson.

      1. I am deeply touched you remember me writing about those things. That has been nearly 10 years.
        After she died I would take drives into a nearby 26-mile canyon and play Andre Rieu, one of her favorites, and weep —at the beauty of the music, the beauty of the canyon and because I missed my mother. After all the drama of our relationship, what was left was love and appreciation for the gifts she gave—one being how she shared her love of beauty with me. I never adequately expressed that appreciation to her.

        1. I didn’t realize it had been that long. It’s proof of what a strong, descriptive writer you are. I have the same feelings of regret when it comes to my father. When he died, I was still young, and had a lot left to learn: about his life, about death, and about how to talk about such things. It’s funny how we continue to develop relationships even after death. I understand him far better now than when he was alive, and I appreciate him far more than I ever was able to say. Perhaps he and your mother know, anyway.

  1. That was really lovely. I tried at age 30 to learn to play classical guitar. It was too hard. In my 50s, I borrowed an electric from a teacher colleague and taught myself to play the blues. It feels so good. I’m sure I’ve learned all kinds of bad habits and methods. But, what matters is how I feel playing the music.

    1. What some people call bad habits and methods, others call personal style. One of the best examples I can think of is Elizabeth Cotten. She was left-handed, so she taught herself to play by turning her brother’s banjo upside down, putting her right hand on the fretboard and using her left to pick the strings. She ended up playing the treble notes with her thumb and the bass notes with her fingers, but it worked, and I suspect she enjoyed how she felt when she played just as much as you do.

        1. That article’s absolutely fascinating. The detail about the E and B strings was really intriguing; the reversal would make it easier to pull off, and I almost could hear it in “All Along the Watchtower.” Now, of course, it’s 11 p.m. and I’m listening to more Hendrix. I’d forgotten how terrific and bluesy “Hear My Train A-comin'” is. (Is it just me, or are there echoes of Stevie Ray Vaughan there?)

          Wouldn’t it be something to be able to sit Elizabeth Cotten and Hendricks down together and let them compare notes (no pun intended)?

          1. It would be something for them to do that. I like to see musicians collaborate.

            Good video. One commenter said ‘Tears are running in my eyes’. That seems fitting to this post of yours. Vaughan…yes.

  2. Amen, and it is all spell-bindingly beautiful writing and sharing. Thank you! I surprised myself with tears at Mary Oliver’s passing, too. I’m certain she would quite understand such tears.

    1. There’s no question she would have understood our tears. Over the course of her life, she had occasion to experience tears of every sort, and accepted them as a part of life. That she left us a beautiful record of both her struggles and her acceptance is a gift to be cherished.

  3. I knew when I heard about Mary Oliver’s passing that you would experience the loss as surely as if you’d known her in person…but you actually did know her through her work and as a fellow poet. I love what Treger said to you about crying while listening to music. When music can move you to the point of tears its such a wonderfully emotional experience.

    1. One of the more interesting tributes to Ms. Oliver made reference to her use of what the writer called an “expansive I” — a way to describe her way of drawing people into her poems. While some critics fussed about her supposed sentimentality. or used her popularity as a way to denigrate her work, people just kept reading, and appreciating. I certainly have, and I know you have, too.

      Music can do so many things. A good road trip mixtape probably won’t evoke tears, but it can be immensely cheering. It’s the unpredictability of our responses that’s fascinating. Even the most familiar music occasionally touches us in a way we’d never have expected, and that’s a gift, too.

  4. Yes, tears of joy, beauty or sadness are never wasted. I am curious if you can still remember the music being played and what the slow movement in the second half of the concert was. I hazard a guess. Was it J Paul Sibelius’ violin concerto? Tears of sadness do have a restorative value and that is just as well.
    Helvi said that sometimes tears of sadness can be a bit selfish. We look at old photos, and later on in the hollow of the night, and sleep is escaping, it overcomes us. Her advise, and she lives by that, is to think of the joy and happiness we have been so blessed with having experienced.

    1. I don’t remember the particular piece that was played, Gerard. I’m not even sure I kept the concert program. If I did, it would have been tossed years ago: ‘information about’ and ‘experience of’ are quite different things, and it’s enough that the experience itself remains fresh.

      As for the tears, there wasn’t even a hint of sadness involved in that experience. Grief is real, and tears can be an appropriate, even restorative, response, but just as with laughter, there are various kinds of tears. Helvi’s right that some tears are selfish, just as some are manipulative. The wails of a child denied a cookie are entirely different from the tears of the awkward carpenter who’s just hit her thumb with a hammer — and both are quite different from an upwelling of tears that comes when confronted by beauty. It’s good that we have them all.

  5. I think we would cry in awe and overwhelming emotion more often if we didn’t so quickly think we needed to say something. So we cut off our emotion by pulling our finger out of the dike and let the words roll out. They are seldom as powerful as tears.

    1. I’m not sure I’d rank tears above words. They’re different ways of responding, and both are valuable. There’s an interesting reciprocity, too. Sometimes tears are transformed into words; at other times, words come to an end, and tears flow.

      You’re certainly right that the temptation to stop tears with words — our own, or other peoples’ — is strong. And while you mentioned opening the dike and letting words flow, I’ve also heard an expression meant to get a child to stop crying: “Put a cork in it.”

  6. That’s a moving story from long ago, and as so often, you’ve done a good job tying it to something recent. It seems Charles Treger is still alive at 83 years of age. If you can track him down and if he’s still mentally alert, it would be worthwhile to forward your post to him.

    1. In fact, I published a much more poorly written version of this post several years ago. Mr. Treger’s daughter found it on the internet and passed it on to him. Unlike most of us today, he had opted for a significant degree of privacy; had it not been for his daughter, I never would have found him. If her email address is the same, I’ll send along this version.

  7. You have so many varied experiences with music. My father had huge collections of classical music. In P.R. the main event was The Casals Festival, which I probably attended when very young. Pablo Casals traveled extensively to P.R. and married a Puerto Rican woman 60 years his junior. He made P.R. his permanent residence.

    Another important figure in P.R. was Jose Ferrer, although his entire career was spent in the U.S.. He was the first hispanic actor to win an academy award in the film ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’.

    1. I see the Casals Festival still is being held. I laughed when I read his comment about his marriage to such a young woman: “His doctor said, ‘Aren’t you concerned about the health issues?’ and he replied, ‘I look at it this way: if she dies, she dies.”

      Jose Ferrer was familiar to me, but if you’d asked me to name any of the productions he’d starred in or directed, I wouldn’t have been able to. It looks as though he was just enough older that I probably heard my parents talking about him — although I did watch some of the television series he was associated with toward the end of his career. There are so many good musicians and actors; I suppose it’s inevitable that we miss knowing some of the best.

      1. We watched two José Ferrer movies on television recently, “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “The Caine Mutiny.” The former was one of my father’s favorite films, so I saw it for the first time when still a teenager.

        1. What a splendid performance. I was quite taken with the tempo; I’ve never heard it played so fast. That may have been a matter of interpretation, or it may be that the cellists I’ve heard performing it weren’t quite so accomplished.

          1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. He was well known for performances of Bach Cello Suites, and I believe this recording may have iconized him. He insisted on playing cello in this cathedral because of the acoustics. However, the video quality is poor, probably because of how old it is.

            1. On the other hand, the richness of the tone is obvious, despite the quality of the recording. Those who know about such things sometimes argue that digital recordings are less rich than analog, and it seems to me I can hear that in this one.

            2. There has been a recent revival of LP record players due to the alleged richness of analog sound. I believe it may have started on 2015 or so. Now you see these LP players all over the internet, but the issue is that most people got rid of their LP’s long time ago!!!

  8. I loved this story, Linda. What wonderful, informative and formative experiences for a young person to have! I also enjoyed the beauty and numinosity of that space which can be felt through the photographs you have posted.

    No, it is never wrong to shed tears in response to the beauty and the sorrows of this world – It’s our souls’ way of affirming our connection with both the heights and the depths of what life can bring us.

    Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing. Mary Oliver has touched the hearts and the souls of so many of us – the heartfelt responses to her passing have certainly affirmed that.

    1. The Villa is a lovely place, with grounds as nice as the buildings. They have a beautiful labyrinth, too. Considering it’s in the middle of Houston, in a neighborhood that’s seen a lot of changes over the years, it’s somewhat remarkable that it’s managed to hang on as firmly as it has.

      You’re right that tears are a sign of connectedness: whether for good or for ill makes no difference in the end. I like the thought of tears washing away all those things that separate us: from one another, from the bird singing in the tree, from the musician absorbed in the act of playing. In this era, when so many are determined to cultivate division, tears may be our best defense against their efforts.

  9. I spent nearly ten years working in my family’s construction business. My great-uncle was one of the older brothers in charge. When I was a kid, he laughed at me, driving nails with a hammer. He said, “Play the music that’s in you.” He was talking about the music that every person has. I’ve never forgotten it.

    1. The first trick, I suppose, is to figure out which music is playing. Then comes the harder part, especially if your inner music is Bach or Bob Seger and you’re living with afficionados of Lawrence Welk and his bubble machine. I will say I can’t think of a better demonstration of ‘playing the music that’s in you’ than this Bob Marley video . It never fails to make me smile.

      1. Thank you. That’s joyful music. That’s the point, isn’t it? To be joyful in the music.
        Moving that beat from the first and third to the second and fourth in Reggae just DOES something to the soul.
        My own go-to on the darkest, dreariest days is this one, from Mr. Cliff, who gave us one of the darkest of all visions in “The Harder They Come,” and here, gives us hope and joy.

        1. Your taste in music is impeccable. As the water from Hurricane Harvey began to ebb and the recovery process began in earnest, I woke to find the sun shining, a barge worker decked out in decidedly upbeat color, and posted this. Remembering that day, I was surprised that tears of gratitude welled up. We made it through, more or less. Now, it’s California’s turn.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Wendy, and thanks for the kind words. I’m so glad to see you.It seems I’ve missed some posts, but I’ve just switched to a new feed reader and added you with no trouble at all. Now, I have to go back and see what kind of craziness you got up to with those raccoons!

    1. It’s easy to get to the Villa. It’s just off Wayside on Lawndale, and very close to the Gulf freeway. I’m not certain if there are hours for the chapel, but you could call and ask. It really is impressive, and worth seeing. As for Washington, it was a remarkable trip in many ways, and quite different from traveling with my parents or my school class.

  10. The first time I heard All is Well from the Michael W. Smith Christmas CD I had to pull off a busy freeway to cry. I haven’t always been in the middle of traffic crying over music, but I cherish those times when I am so moved.

    1. I’m not sure I could cry in the midst of Houston traffic; I’m too busy trying not to get killed. But I take your point, and agree that whenever and however it comes, a moment like that is to be cherished.

  11. Hello Linda – this is wonderful and heart-warming. It’s a meaningful story, and you’re a 1st-class storyteller. And you’ve introduced me to some great poetry, so thanks for that, too.

    1. It still warms my heart to remember it, so it pleased me that you would describe it that way, too. It interests me how some stories continue to resonate over time, and how the passage of time can reveal new or deeper meaning in a story. I was happy to find a way to link it to Mary Oliver, too. I wanted to acknowledge her death in some way, and this felt right.

  12. How you weave your way through prose to deliver an enchanting story never ceases to amaze me. I think I especially love when you write about your young life and the opportunities and experiences that touched you and left an impression your whole life long.

    1. I think good stories can pull past and present together in some interesting ways. Your stories about Daisy Deer and that whole clan do much the same thing. Sometimes, we don’t realize how special certain times were, or how much we’ve learned, until we hear the stories again — even if we’re only telling them to ourselves.

      Of course, not all the stories we remember and tell are happy ones, but that’s all right. They’re part of life, too, and sometimes when we look back we realize they had their own lessons to teach. I suppose that’s why sailors love telling storm stories. There’s a lot of pleasure in saying, “Well, by hook or by crook, we escaped that one!”

    1. It’s true, isn’t it? The world surrounds us with sounds: not only obvious ones, like birdsong, but even the slighter ones of wind in the trees; the evening crickets; bees working clover. I wouldn’t want to live without music, but my definition of music is far more expansive than it used to be, and I’ve a new appreciation for a pair of lines from an old hymn I sang as a child: “All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.”

  13. This one’s right up my alley, Linda — thank you! I’m glad you had the opportunity to speak directly to Treger, to admit your emotions, and to have him graciously validate them. YES! Hearing beautiful music, seeing stunning photos or artwork, studying intricate designs — all can move us to emotions we typically bury. I have wonderful memories of meeting Van Cliburn (really!) when I lived in Texas. But it’s clear Iowa rewarded its young essayists way better than Illinois did — all I ever received was a plaque or a nominal check ($5, I think) — you got a week-long experience with memories that resonated through the years!!

    1. Did you meet Van Cliburn in Dallas? I suspect so. Every time I drive through Kilgore, it amuses me to think of him living in that oil town when he was young. On the other hand, a blogger who’s no longer posting, Georgette Sullins, lived in the area and used to take piano lessons from an Estonian woman who settled in East Texas after emigrating from her country. It didn’t have as many musicians as oil derricks, but it had its share.

      Does your group have another concert scheduled? Just think — there might be someone in your audience who’s as moved by your music as I was by that symphony. You never know when you’ll open the door into music for someone.

      1. What a lovely thought, that something we play might touch someone and give them the nudge they need to delve deeper into music! It’s the universal language for a reason, right?!

    1. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed it, Elizabeth. In truth, every day has its moments, but some do linger in memory through the years — or even decades. I just spent a few minutes looking through my list of bookstores for The Dome Singer of Falenda, but couldn’t find it anywhere. If I do happen upon a copy, and it’s a reasonable price, I’ll pick it up and let you know.

      1. that is so very kind of you. Thank you so much, I am happy to pay for shipping/cost of book! I have a feeling it was a small print run! Yes, I think you are right about everyday has them, we are often too busy to notice I think… God bless you for your words and your kindness!

  14. Music can move me to tears and often does. I could not imagine weeping over the death of a celebrity, however. In fact, the older I get the more difficulty I have even weeping over people I know who die; even close friends. People live, people die. That really is about it for me. I grieve far more for the savagery we are inflicting on the planet and its wildlife. I grieve for the loss of habitable space for my grandchildren. I grieve for an out of control world population which dooms so many to a life of permanent squalour, desolation, poverty and misery. I grieve for much, but the death of one person seems a tad insignificant to me.

    1. You may have missed the single quotation marks I placed around ‘celebrity.’ I was moved by Ms. Oliver’s death not because she was famous, or celebrated, or highly publicized, but because, through her work, she’s been a beloved companion over the years.

      I confess I was taken aback by your comment that the death of a single person seems insignificant to you. Combined with your other strong statements, I couldn’t help but think about this saying, made famous by Linus. If there’s anything in my worldview that’s non-negotiable, it would be the infinite worth of the individual, and the value of all life in general. The older I get, the more easily I weep at the loss of life: sometimes in grief, but just as often in gratitude for what that life has meant.

    1. Even though the lesson Charles Treger offered came to me early, it took years for me to incorporate it into my life. Truth to tell, I probably still have a way to go. Even when we know something intellectually, it takes some time for our emotions to catch up, but the wholeness that results is well worth the effort.

    1. It is a great story, and a great memory. One reason I enjoy sharing some of these personal stories is that it’s a way to ensure I’ll keep remembering them in the future. When the day comes that I’m saying things like, “Now, who was that nice man who played the violin?” I’ll be able to dig through the archives and find out!

  15. I enjoyed reading about your experiences in Washington DC when you were in high school. I am amazed at how you were able to meet with several senators (including a couple very well-known ones). What an honor to win that trip!

    1. It was an honor, and quite a surprise. It provided some amusement, too. On the flight from Des Moines to D.C., we stopped in Dayton, Ohio. There were a lot of military men on board, including what I took to be high-ranking officers. The turbulence between Des Moines and Dayton was terrible. I didn’t get airsick, but some of those officers did. I was entirely too proud of myself.

      It’s amazing to think how freely I could move around the Capitol building in those days, and how constricted everything is now. It really is a different world, in many ways.

  16. What an amazing opportunity for you at such a time. I cannot imagine anyone allowed any amount of wandering at the Capitol these days. When I visited 15 years ago, my friend and I were given a tour by an aide from our congressman’s office that was much broader than the group tours offered today. How wonderful your evening at the concert and then encountering Mr Treger!

    1. When I did the arithmetic and realized that my visit was fifty-five years ago, it not only brought home my age, it also was quite a reminder of how many things have changed in such a short time. Change isn’t bad, but the rate of change can be a concern. We don’t have time to adjust and adapt any more, and I suspect some of our social problems are due to that.

      Anyway: it was an amazing opportunity, in many ways. Memory always is selective, and it’s intriguing to me to notice what I remember so clearly, and what has faded away entirely. I don’t have a clue what I wrote in that essay, for example. That’s somehow amusing.

    1. Welcome home; I trust your visit was a good one. I’m not surprised you appreciated the post. The combination of memory, family, exploration, and music is one that I’d expect to appeal to you.

    1. And thank you so much for the music story. Here’s one from our family. My Dear went to the hospital with labor pains early in the morning after an experience in the beautiful St. Louis Symphony Hall, where we first heard Beethoven ‘s 5th symphony. Our first child must have been greatly affected, as we were. As a child she took to the piano, and has had one in her home ever since. She still uses the worn piano books that her grandmother left for her.

      1. And who’s to say that the effect of that music wasn’t transmitted in precisely that way? It must have pleased and delighted you that your daughter took to the piano as she did, and that she stayed with it. It sounds as though music was appreciated in your family long before that symphony concert, though. It makes a difference.

        1. It does make a difference. But the part about listening to music on the bus made me realize (assuming as I did that headphones and “apps” were involved) that I have yet to take advantages of all the opportunities today for listening. Still, I’m partial to seeing and hearing made live.

          1. I prefer live performance, too, although it’s wonderful to have access to the whole range of music via streaming and such — particularly since the cost and logistics of live performance can be difficult. On the other hand, I’m still buying books. I just haven’t been able to adapt to the Kindle or other e-readers. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that e-readers “flatten” the reading experience. It’s a bit of a trick to keep blogs from appearing flat, too.

            1. About e-books, exactly. I also favor library books, or ones i find for 25 cents on a shelf at our local grocery store, having been donated by book lovers who wanted to pass them to others. And especially “used book” stores. Or do they call them, like cars, “pre-owned”? I like turning pages that have been turned many times before. Reading, especially poems and novels, has sometimes a physical element to it. Emotional as well (of course), and i have been learning lately about how all-together the human person–sorry, I , you, we–is. Are. Mind, body, spirit, soul (whatever, as kids sometimes say), all together, one. And one with all others. Everything..

              Living and learning here. There too, at Shoreacres. (Great name!)

    2. I was interested to see that the article was written by another of my favorite poets — Billy Collins. I’m not sure I fully agree with his assessment of the “purpose” of Oliver’s poetry, but it’s a fact that there always was a tension between her desire to confront the world alone, and the fact of the world chasing after her. I was reminded of the beginning of one of my favorites of her poems:

      “Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single
      friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore

  17. Sweet story. Beauty of all kinds can reduce me to tears (isn’t that an unfortunate expression right there, as if crying lowers us in some way?) … anyway, beauty in nature, music, poetry, art, and more all evoke strong feelings in me from time to time, and sometimes the only way those feelings sneak out is through my eyes!

    1. What an interesting observation. I’ve never thought much about that expression “reduced to tears.” It might carry the meaning you mentioned, or it might be an analogy to rain: emotion building and condensing, and finally falling in droplets.

      It is true that emotions can be stirred in an infinite number of ways, and conveying emotion is tricky at best. Still, Robert Frost got it exactly right: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

    1. That’s right. Disgust, amusement, confusion, or compassion are also legitimate responses to art, and ‘beauty’ isn’t necessarily the trigger. Occasionally, I can’t even identify what I’m feeling when confronted by a piece of art; I only know that I can’t look away. A specific example I remember is Mary Cassatt’s Child in a Straw Hat, which came to Houston in an exhibition of post-impressionism. When I rounded a corner and spotted that painting, it was as though everything else fell away. I stood and looked at it until me friends dragged me away — and I’m still not sure what was so compelling about it. Those are the experiences we treasure.

    1. It’s interesting how different people respond. I can’t remember a book that’s elicited tears, but movies and plays? Certainly. Sometimes, even the most mundane events can be equally touching. I watched a man help a mother who’d dropped a full bag of groceries in a parking lot a few days ago, and the simple humanity of one person helping another was wonderful to see.

  18. I was brought to tears too when I learned of Mary Oliver’s death. An irreparable loss.

    You bring to mind the pipe organ dedication service in the church I grew up in. They’d built a bigger sanctuary, and then they put a magnificent pipe organ in it. They brought in the big guns for the organ dedication service, a Ph.D. from University of Texas, Austin. My brother who had helped with the voicing of the organ pipes clued us as to where the best seats were to get the best sound. The music was carefully selected to showcase the instrument — a little Bach, a little Handel, the usual suspects. The program culminated in Jehan Alain’s “Litanies” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrH-zCJMb7s) That was the one that got me (still does). When I left at the end of the program, I had two little wet spots on the lapels of my blouse.

    1. I remember you writing about the trip you took for that occasion. I’ve never heard Litanies, and I’d not heard of the Alains. It’s a shame that he died so young. The recording is magnificent, of course, and it must have been wonderful to hear it in person.

      Sometimes, reading through comments can yield some gems. This one, from the video page, struck me, and recalled my own experience with Charles Treger:

      “As brilliant a musician as [Marie-Claire Alain] was, that is how kind and gracious to her audience she was. I met her after an incredible performance in the late 1980s. I greeted her in French. She answered in fluent English, which threw me. I responded in German of all things. I grew up with it. Mme Alain spoke to me in perfect German: she was a gifted linguist, and she did not act as if I were beneath her notice, I, a nobody.”

    1. It was quite an experience. It’s occurred to me that we often don’t know at the time which experiences are going to endure in memory, and which will fade away. This one certainly stayed, and the music continues to play.

  19. So often at the end of one of your pieces I just settle in and sigh contentedly. Lovely! Also – you’ll laugh at this – as you may know by now I attended my first drag show last Saturday. I know, quite unselfconsciously, I was making all manner of different faces during the show. After the fact I thought “I sure hope no one was paying attention to me!” It was mostly a hoot, a little bit risque, and profoundly touching. A symphony of feelings!

    1. I did see that report of your attendance at the show — and then I got distracted by your comment about the Christmas decorations, and commented about that. We do respond in a variety of ways; I suspect even boredom reveals itself on our faces and in our posture from time to time. The good news is that there’s no prescribed way that we have to respond: not to a symphony, and not to any other kind of entertainment. If more people understood that, I suspect they’d enjoy a whole lot more.

  20. I loaded the page and read it off line at home. and yes, along with many other readers, I cried.

    Now back on line at the cyber, it is my loss not to be able to open all of these great links and enjoy them ahora… and there are too many pages open (weather news as well) to open more.

    That’s ok. it gives a reserve supply of future enjoyment!

    1. I’m glad you were able to read my little memory-story, and that it touched you. I laughed at your comment about so many tabs being open. I heard someone complaining recently about all the obligations she had, and she explained it by saying, “My life’s like it’s got twenty-five tabs open.” Of course I knew exactly what she meant.

      Believe it or not, the weather’s exactly the same here as it is in Quito: 57F and raining. Well, right now we just have drizzle, but that still counts. I hope you have some sunshine, instead.

    1. Mary Oliver’s gone now, but Charles Treger got to read my account of our meeting. Now and then I’ve wished I knew that anonymous little Santa’s helper, so I could share the story with her, too, and let her know that she played a role in it.

  21. Thank you for sharing that remarkable story, and reminding us that sometimes the music plays us. I find poetry and painting sometimes have analogous moments. They cannot be coerced, but when they come they bring tears to the artist too!

    1. The experience you’ve pointed to is one that Robert Frost knew, and gave voice to in one of his best-known quotations: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

      It makes perfect sense that we’d respond emotionally to what we’re engaged in as writers and artists, even though a good bit of objectivity’s required as well. When it comes to editing, for example, emotion’s not much help. On the other hand, even the most objective, data obsessed scientists also take pleasure in their work; I can’t see the beauty in their calculations, but I know they can, and that they also respond with emotions ranging from pleasure to surprise.

  22. I hadn’t heard that Mary Oliver had died. What a loss.
    This is such a moving post. I was similarly surprised by tears at a Lipizzan performance to Handel’s Water Music. The combination of the beautiful music and the incredible horses dancing undid me. And last weekend I was in the city with my son, and we visited the Art Institute. Standing before one of my favorite Monets I was once again surprised by tears.

    1. She’d had health issues for some time, so in some ways it wasn’t a surprise. Still, I hated to hear it. It’s good that we have her work as a remembrance. I have a collection of her essays titled Upstream. I’ve not yet read it in its entirety, but, for me, it’s as compelling as any of her poetry.

      For a horse lover, I can imagine that the combination of beautiful animals and remarkable training could evoke the kind of response you had, especially with the addition of the music. While I can’t remember particular emotional responses to paintings, I certainly have some that I’ve found compelling — the sort that keep you in place until someone tugs on your arm and says, “Come on!

      1. I, too, have been reading Upstream and like to dip into her poetry. I’ll miss her pithy way of nailing a thing, whether an event or emotion or season.
        I suppose part of my response in the museum had to do with always studying these works, by Monet and others. in books. And here they WERE. THESE were the actual brushstrokes, the actual pigments he piled on in gorgeous layers. The actual man stood here, this close, to this canvas. Pretty cool.

        1. That makes sense to me. For years I looked at Gary Myers’ paintings on the web. Then, I won a contest to name one of his paintings, and the prize was an actual painting of his signature Red Tree.
          When it arrived, I was stunned by the difference between the images on the web and the real thing. That experience changed my way of viewing art in museums and galleries. I’d never paid much attention to brush strokes, and such. I’d just look at a painting as “picture,” if that makes sense. When I started looking at things like the shape of brushstrokes, the thickness of the paint, and so on, it was quite a change, and wholly delightful.

          1. That makes perfect sense. I hadn’t thought about it, but that is exactly how art will appear to people online. I just posted a painting that I’m pleased with, but whose photo I am definitely not. I’ve tried photographing it a number of times, in different light, and still it looks pale and thin to me online. GAH!

            1. I just tried to find your new blog entry, and couldn’t. I keep getting this message, even though I’ve tried several times: “Error: the domain you requested can not be served at this time. An error report has already been sent to the technical team. Please try again in ten minutes.”

              I finally did a Google search, and got to your new blog, but I only found one entry after finally finding the menu button on the left — the one with the cardinal. And, I couldn’t find a way to comment, or to follow. Any help you can offer? Is the cardinal the painting that you think looks pale and thin? I think it’s lovely!

            2. Thank you Linda. I’m glad you like that one! But there should be a second one. Actually there should be 5 in total at that site. AAARRGGGH! I have really tried everything I know to work with wordpress and am just about ready to tell them to stuff it.

            3. Oh that isn’t a surprise. WP has taken a dislike to me. Do you mean you tried to put my website there, or my new blog at WP? The blog is: melissabluefineartblog.wordpress.com
              Is that what you tried?

            4. Ah, ha. That came up fine. However, if I try to search for your blog using melissabluefine art, or click on your name here, I get the response that there’s no valid pathway to your blog. I did add you to my reader just now with no problems.

              I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect that if you change the link to your website in the “comment as” form, that will take care of that problem. That way, if someone clicks on your name in a comment, they’ll land on your blog.

            5. I didn’t realize you have a blog apart from your website. I thought the website was it, and that the blog there was your new blog. I’m easily confused.

            6. Me too. I tried valiantly to create a website here on WP. I even hired my son, who spent a solid weekend trying to set it up. In the end it was full of glitches and when I would try to add a new painting, it was extremely clunky and glitchy. Half the time you’d receive an error message when clicking on a link. More than half the time. In frustration I went searching and found “Format”, a platform designed by artists for artists. It is so much better! It has a blog function, too, but of course not connected to any community at all so what is the point of that? So, I’m back to a blog in one place and a website in another.
              I just went to my Account Settings and made the change you suggested. Thanks so much. I hope that works.

  23. When I read about Mary Oliver’s passing my first thought was of you. I knew you’d write something memorable, but not something so close to my heart. Music affects me the same way, some pieces in particular. I need to dab my eyes at concerts, but I‘ve always kept it to myself. I admire you for sharing your response with Treger as much I admire Treger’s kindness. Music is the art that goes to my heart. I love the visual arts and literature, but they don’t affect me the same way.

    1. I think that William Congreve’s actual words (in his play,The Mourning Bride, 1697) are even better than the common misquotation: “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” Like you, I respond to music differently than to literature or the visual arts. Paintings and photography certainly delight, and I’m as likely as anyone to get engrossed in a good book, but only music — and some poetry — has the ability to cheer, or heal, or elevate.

      I suppose that’s why Mary Olivers’ death brought Charles Treger to mind almost instantaneously. Both of them have helped me to see the world differently, and understand myself differently, as well.

  24. I think that William Congreve’s actual words (in his play,The Mourning Bride, 1697) are even better than the common misquotation: “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” Like you, I respond to music differently than to literature or the visual arts. Paintings and photography certainly delight, and I’m as likely as anyone to get engrossed in a good book, but only music — and some poetry — has the ability to cheer, or heal, or elevate.

    I suppose that’s why Mary Olivers’ death brought Charles Treger to mind almost instantaneously. Both of them have helped me to see the world differently, and understand myself differently, as well.

  25. What a life changing experience. So glad Treger got your feedback of how his music had such impact – it meant a lot to him whether you knew it or not.
    I haven’t thought of the convent/Villa in a long time. It is still a place of solitude and wonder. Always had some interest in exploring the Taize services there – maybe some day.
    Lovely post

    1. I have a friend who’s involved with groups that sometimes meet at the Villa. They’ve added a labyrinth, too. It’s apparently very well done, and never as crowded as the one at the Rothko Chapel. I’ve always wondered how meditative walking a labyrinth with forty other people could be, but that’s just me. They have some interesting programs, including an upcoming event focused on ecological concerns, and they certainly are responsive to the concerns of the changing neighborhood around them.

      As for Treger — I am something of an idiot. My own experience and my memories of that concert have been so vivid I never thought of looking online to see what I might find. Would you like to hear Mr. Treger remininiscing a bit, and playing for you? It’s entirely possible. Pay special attention to what he says between 1:55 and 2:50. It’s a recapituation of what he said to me that night in Washington. Amazing.

      In the process of looking around, I found another surprise — but I’m saving that for later!

      1. Cool! Thanks for the music link-up.
        St Paul’s also has a labyrinth, but while walking it in solitude in quiet creates one image – a timed entrance with a line-up is so much like traffic on the roads! (Just would be too distracted observing to focus on why there in the first place, I’m afraid.)
        Always surprises on your blog!

        1. True, indeed. Walking a labyrinth with as many people as are shown in the Rothko photos would be an experience, but perhaps not what was hoped for. St. Paul’s does have some wonderful music, too. I have absolutely no desire to live inside the loop, but on the other hand, there are some real advantages to it.

    1. Oh, my ~ yes! I returned a few times as an adult for various conferences, but there’s never anything like that first exposure to a grand city — and despite it all, D.C. is grand.

  26. I’v been amazed at how “wayward” (at least in my limited knowledge of how things work) emotion and joy break into my life. Music. A friend, living or gone. Paintings. A landscape. A dog. Surprise! It’s baffling, but a reality nonetheless. I love the imagery of tears as jewels.

    1. There’s a reason C.S. Lewis’s title resonates on so many levels: Surprised by Joy.. Whether the best things in life are free, I can’t say. But I do know that many of the best things are serendipitous and surprising: utterly unpredictable and yet famliar and comforting when they arrive. All that’s required of us is sensitivity, and receptivity.

  27. There’s a reason C.S. Lewis’s title resonates on so many levels: Surprised by Joy.. Whether the best things in life are free, I can’t say. But I do know that many of the best things are serendipitous and surprising: utterly unpredictable and yet famliar and comforting when they arrive. All that’s required of us is sensitivity, and receptivity.

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