My friend Pam died last Friday. I’ve already celebrated her life on this blog (March 20), and I haven’t too much to add. I’ll miss her presence, books and magazines cascading around her chair, Daniels Pond lighting up her face as she kept track of her neighbors’ water life or told stories of the ceramics that surrounded her (like an even wider circle, outside the piles of reading matter), and planned her purchases on her next trip to the antique shop. Since her heart was failing, I knew I should talk and fill the space so that she could be entertained and not exert herself. But she sat there, full of stories and thoughts— recounting a wonderful essay about Robert Frost in New York magazine, exclaiming once again over the wickedness of Bronson Alcott, the erstwhile father of Louisa May (she’d only recently, for reasons of poor health, postponed reading a paper on the Transcendentalists at a yearly lecture series), and rejoicing about the concerts she planned to attend this summer, When it became clear that most of her summer months would be spent instead in hospitals and nursing homes, if she survived it at all, she regretted not hearing the music long before she worried about the possibility of dying. I’m sure she must have concerned herself about her mortality, but she almost never said anything about it to her friends. She just kept on living, throttle out full, learning, admiring the beautiful and thriving in the face of the provocative.
I intend to listen to a lot of music for her this summer. I owe her that.
About music. The Warebrook Contemporary Music Festival just celebrated its 21st year. Not bad for an event playing what most people find incomprehensible, or nearly so—not bad for a bunch of music wonks who come together to play some of the most adventurous combinations of sounds in our time. I’ll never forget listening to Steve Reich’s “Vermont Counterpoint” (1982), in a Version for Eleven Flutes. Eleven flutes, playing the same patterns over and over again, but at different times and speeds, turning the audible world into a place of glass prisms, reflecting off one another all the colors that glass can embrace, that raindrops can hold. Nor will I forget the “Rilke Songs” of composer Paul Brust, singing, moaning, sometimes even screaming, of love and loneliness. Nor the lovely “Carl Sandberg Songs” of Sara Doncaster, lamenting and rejoicing by turns. There can be no more heartbreaking combination of instruments than the clarinet and viola.
I’m listening, Pam.