Tag Archive | Madison Symphony Orchestra

Living inside a Broadway Musical

Last weekend was like living inside a Broadway musical – like “The Sound of Music.” Life wasn’t an opera – our conversations were spoken, not sung – but the whole weekend seemed to flow from one musical moment to the next. It’s almost like we were taking the message of the Psalms – to sing to the Lord – very literally.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
[Psalm 98:4-6 NRSV]

Overture Organ w Sam

Sam Hutchison at the Overture Center organ.

Saturday started with a magnificent Christmas Carol Sing at the Overture Center in Madison. By the time we arrived for the free sing-along (about 15 minutes early for the 11:00 a.m. event), the main floor was already filled and we were directed to the circle (lowest balcony), which was already filling up quickly. About a thousand people had gathered to sing Christmas carols under the direction of organist Sam Hutchison and the powerful Overture Center organ. What a sound we made – from the mighty organ leading us in “O Come, All Ye Faithful” to the gentle “Away in a Manger.” Hutchison introduced each carol with a brief explanation of its origin, and then directed us to sing with all our heart and soul.  Hutchison also played two organ solos. For the first one, “Chorale-Improvisation on In Dulci Jubilo,” he promised he would sound every one of the 4,000-plus pipes of the organ so that we could hear all the sounds possible from this amazing instrument. The Carol Sing ended with “The First Nowell.” Dozens of sopranos (including Mim standing next to me) sang the beautiful soaring descant on the refrain. What an inspiring way to end the morning!

After singing our hearts out, we went to a neighborhood bakery for lunch, and then home to rest up a little to be ready for more music. While at home, I practiced the music I would be playing for the Saturday evening worship service at Messiah. Then we turned around and went back to Madison for church.

Marian at organ-MessiahI played my favorite Advent prelude, an organ arrangement of “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Mim sang “Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah” as the Advent candles were lit. As usual, Jeff delivered an inspiring homily, one that included the song, “I thank you, Lord, for each new day.” The service ended with a new favorite piano postlude, an arrangement of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” This is the time of year for great church music!

Caroling in Overture Center

Caroling with the Madison Symphony Chorus in the Lobby of Overture Hall.

After church we ate a quick supper at Culver’s and drove to the Overture Center again for the Madison Symphony Orchestra Christmas concert. But the real highlight of the whole weekend came before this concert began. The three-level Overture Hall Lobby served as an incredible space for another Christmas Carol Sing-along. The Madison Symphony Chorus lined the second-level railing to sing carols a capella with their director Beverly Taylor on the lower level, where concert-goers gathered to join in the singing. Our voices filled the three-level space with the most beautiful sound imaginable. I think it was a preview of the sounds we’ll hear in heaven when we sing with the angels.

For the concert, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Chorus were joined by the Madison Youth Choirs, the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, and two soloists – a soprano and a tenor. The music was as varied as could be – classical, black gospel, traditional Christmas, and contemporary holiday music. It was a fun concert. My favorite piece came just before the intermission – the “Hallelujah Chorus” with the symphony, all the choirs, and the audience making wonderful music together.

Madison Symphony Christmas Concert in Overture Hall

My view Saturday night from the top balcony in Overture Hall. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Symphony Choir, guest choirs, and a few extra heads in my line of vision.

But the music of the weekend wasn’t over yet. On Sunday afternoon, the Monona Senior Choir – a group of about 50 singers – performed a delightful Christmas concert in the community room of our church in Madison. This was one of those concerts where my mouth just froze into a smile because I was having so much fun listening to the music. The concert opened with an arrangement that blended “Joy to the World” with the “Hallelujah Chorus.” A few songs later, a good friend of mine, dressed in a red union suit, sang “Winter Underwear” to the tune of “Winter Wonderland.” The concert ended with two little girls, granddaughters of the director, signing “Silent Night” while the violinist played the melody. What a wonderful ending to my weekend of living inside a Christmas musical.

Monona Senior Choir cropped

Some of the members of the Monona Senior Choir, with director Jan Piddington – taking a break during their concert.

Music truly is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. Advent and Christmas are special times to be reminded of this gift.

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
[Isaiah 12:5-6 NRSV]



A 50-cent Thrill

lightning 9


I learned a new word last week – “mirabilary.” Well, it’s not exactly a new word – just new to me. The dictionary (if you can even find it in your dictionary) says it’s obsolete. The 101-year-old 1913 edition of Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defined it as, “One who, or a work which, narrates wonderful things, one who writes of wonders.”

I came across the word in one of Edward Hays’ books, A Book of Wonders: Daily Reflections for Awakened Living. The title of the reading for April 3 is “A Mirabilary.” Here’s the reading – it’s short, only a paragraph:

Another great book by Edward Hays. This may actually become my favorite of his books.

Another great book by Edward Hays. This may actually become my favorite of his books.

We are wonderstruck when we’re caught off guard by some amazing or surprising thing or person. Unlike being lightning-struck – which is lethal – being wonderstruck is life-giving and spirit-arousing. If God is the Wonder of Wonders, then to witness any wonder is to have a divine visitation. These are more common than is believed. Admiration is to wonder, to be awed when people act heroically, selflessly, or generously. Normally, we have low expectations of our fellow humans. The unexpectedness of such behaviors are visitations of wonder. We capture this by calling them a “bolt out of the blue,” linking them to lightning. Become a bolt out of the blue yourself by being a mirabilary, an uncommon synonym for wonder-worker. Today, surreptitiously plot to be a mirabilary by being a one-person divine visitation. In unexpected places and times, act in a surprisingly unselfish, noble, or heroic way.

The daily reflection ended with this prayer:

Inspire me to perform surprise deeds of unexpected kindness and generosity for strangers, friends, or family, and so be your wondrous bolt out of the blue.

So, last Thursday I plotted to be a mirabilary. This was even better than April Fools. Instead of trying to trick Mim and everyone else in our household with an April Fools joke, I tried to figure out how to be unusually and unexpectedly nice to them. After doing a couple of nice little things – complimenting Ann on how pretty she looked in what she was wearing that day and asking Mim if she’d like me to make Ann’s coffee for her – I told Mim what I was planning to do – to surprise everyone by being extra kind. Mim decided to join me, and we had a great day being mirabilaries together.

Much to my surprise, trying to be mirabilaries is becoming a habit, something we catch ourselves doing every day. The neat thing about being mirabilaries is that this habit is giving us as much joy as the “victims” of our kind deeds.

20 quartersOn Sunday afternoon Mim and I went to a Madison Symphony Orchestra concert at the Overture Center in Madison. We drove to the parking garage where we usually park, next to the Overture Center, but it was full. We drove around a few blocks looking for street parking – without success – so we tried another parking garage. This was the garage where you have to pay by feeding quarters into meters, ten minutes per quarter. Fortunately, I had a handful of quarters in my car. I fed the meter enough quarters to give us three hours of time. I had two quarters left in my hand. I was about to put them in my pocket when Mim said, “Why don’t you give them to those people.” The people in the car next to ours were scrounging through their purses and pockets to try to find more quarters. I walked up to the woman standing by the meter and asked her, “Do you want two more quarters?” I think she and her companions were shocked. She explained that they were going to the symphony but couldn’t get into their usual parking garage. They didn’t know they would need quarters. She gladly accepted my two quarters and fed them into her meter. Mim and I walked away feeling good about being generous with our left over quarters, and our “victims” were delighted to get a couple of quarters from complete strangers.

That was our “50-cent thrill” of the day. Oh, the joy of trying to be “a wondrous bolt out of the blue.”

Both Mim and I highly recommend trying to be “mirabilaries.” It’s fun! Try it.

2 quarters

I Have Something to Confess

That's me about the time this happened.I have something to confess, a sin of omission. It’s something that’s been on my mind off and on for the past sixty years. This sin of omission really weighed heavily on my conscience for the first year or two. Now it just comes to mind occasionally.

It happened when I was a little girl. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, probably about 6. I was at my grandma’s house. She was hosting a “Stanley Party.” There were lots of older women, probably about a dozen, in her living room. I knew most of them as being the grandmas from church.

A “Stanley Party” was kind of like a “Tupperware Party” only the products were “Stanley Home Products” – mostly household cleaners.

The company still exists:  http://www.shponline.com/english/about.asp



For the first hour of the party the “Stanley Lady” demonstrated the products and the women wrote up their orders. Then the hostess, my grandma on this day, brought out dessert and coffee for all the women, and everyone sat around and talked for a long time. I remember sitting on the floor in the living room, near the door to the hallway that went outside. I think I was coloring in a coloring book. I remember it was very noisy in the room. Everyone was talking, laughing, and enjoying being together.

It was snowing outside, and just beginning to get dark. Stella Lillesand, a really old lady who had been my mother’s Sunday School teacher when she was little, decided to leave the party first. Stella had to walk two long blocks to get to her home from my grandma’s house, and she thought the snow might make walking more difficult, especially as it got darker. Shortly after she left, I thought I heard an awful noise, like someone screaming. No one else seemed to hear it. I kept coloring, but then I heard the noise again. Was someone outside yelling? I looked around at all the women in the room. Everyone was talking, and no one else seemed to be hearing what I thought I heard. I was kind of afraid. I colored some more, and tried to forget about those awful noises. Maybe I wasn’t really hearing anything.

About half an hour later, someone else decided to leave the party. After saying her good-byes, she walked out the door. Less than a minute later, she came running back in, all excited. She had found Stella on the sidewalk, moaning in pain. My grandma called an ambulance, and Stella was taken to the hospital. She had slipped on the sidewalk right outside my grandma’s house, fallen, and broken her hip. That awful noise I had been hearing for the past half-hour was Stella crying for help. Oh, why hadn’t I told someone. I felt so bad. Today is the first day in sixty years that I’ve mentioned this “sin of omission” to anyone.

Why am I finally confessing it today? For some unknown reason, the whole incident came to mind again last week. I don’t know why.

And then Sunday afternoon Mim and I went to a Madison Symphony Orchestra concert. Overall, the concert was wonderful – one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve been to in a long time. It was an unusually varied concert that included works by Jean Sibelius, Joseph Haydn, Alexander Arutiunian, and Richard Strauss.

A-BombRight in the middle of the concert was a work by John Adams called “Doctor Atomic Symphony,” composed in 2007. It was 25 minutes of frenzied agitation, loud mechanical crashes, and brash fanfares – all evoking both terror and sadness. The three movements are named, The Laboratory, Panic, and Trinity. “Doctor Atomic” refers to J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the Manhattan Project in 1945 to create the first atomic bomb. The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s program description of the work quotes from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, which was referenced by Oppenheimer following the first atomic bomb test, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” The audience listening to the work Sunday afternoon couldn’t help but feel the heavy, heavy remorse of the scientists who carried out this horrible test of the atomic bomb, as they gradually realized the potential of the terror-filled monstrosities they were enabling.

Francois Rabelais (1483-1553), a writer of the French Renaissance, understood the relationship between conscience and scientific advancement centuries ago when he wrote, “Science without conscience is the death of the soul.”

A more contemporary Frenchman, Albert Camus (1913-1960), added, “A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession.” I guess that was the role of the “Doctor Atomic Symphony” – to put the confession of our atomic scientists into a form that could be understood and felt by the audience. I’m glad I had the opportunity to hear the “Doctor Atomic Symphony” but I’m really thankful that the rest of the concert included music that was much more pleasant and uplifting to hear.

George-WashingtonWhat do the regrets of a six-year-old and the remorse of the team of scientists who developed the atomic bomb have in common? Conscience. That special gift God gave to all of us.

George Washington’s 282nd birthday comes up on Saturday. He gave us some advice about conscience:

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.


Enjoying Gifts – Both Yours and Mine

Gift - Gold

Yesterday I saw and heard something wonderful! Mim and I went to the Overture Center in Madison to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra perform with Gabriela Montero as guest pianist. I had never heard of Gabriela Montero before yesterday, but she was going to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and we knew we would enjoy the music enough to compensate for the frigid Wisconsin weather we’d have to tolerate to get there.

We were right! The whole concert was absolutely beautiful, but the real highlight was totally unexpected. After the standing ovation for the performance of the piano concerto, Gabriela Montero came back on stage and asked the audience to sing or call out a musical theme, and she would improvise on it as an encore. Someone called out, “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad.” Montero (a native of Venezuela) looked a little surprised, laughed with the audience, then plunked out the tune on the piano one note at a time and asked, “Is this it?” The audience responded with a hearty “Yes!” She said, “No one has ever asked for this tune before.” Then she paused about ten seconds and began an amazing improvisation on that tune for about five minutes. She put almost as much exuberance and variety into improvising that tune as Beethoven had put into writing his Piano Concerto No. 1.

I looked on YouTube this morning to find an example of Gabriela Montero’s improvisation on a familiar tune. This link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6Aa92cZToI) is to an improvisation of “Happy Birthday.” This video might help you imagine what she did to “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad” yesterday.

Gabriela Montero definitely has the gift of musical improvisation. And she uses it well to bring joy to many people – from the “birthday girl” honored in the above video, to the thousands of people who marvel at her spontaneous improvisations in concert halls around the world.

Gifts…. That subject was on my mind yesterday because of the second Scripture reading in church, I Corinthians 12:1-11. I’ve been reading THE MESSAGE paraphrase a lot more lately to try to gain fresh insights into familiar Bible passages. Here are verses 4 and 7 from THE MESSAGE. “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit…. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is. Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!”

After yesterday, I know that one of the gifts God has given Gabriela Montero is musical improvisation.  But the Scripture says that each person gets something – everyone receives gifts, and there is tremendous variety in what these gifts are.

That prompted me to think about some of the gifts the Spirit has given me. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I described the prelude I played on the piano in church yesterday morning as improvisations on “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The same word, “improvisations,” does not describe the same thing Montero did with her tune and what I did with mine. I think the gift God has given me is the sensitivity to figure out what hymn tune will help someone in the congregation draw closer to God. Generally I choose music that complements the Scripture readings of the day, and that is arranged in a style that reflects the mood of the text. That certainly is a very different gift than what the Spirit gave to Gabriela Montero.

The last verse of Sunday’s reading (verse 11) puts some perspective on the different gifts we each receive, “All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what and when.”

I’m thankful for the gifts the Spirit has given me, and even more, I’m thankful for the gifts the Spirit has given others.

small blue christmas gifts