The Fox at Dawn

The Way Forth
March 2, 2019, 3:35 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day | Tags: , , ,

Last week I had a rare treat: a swell dinner with sweet Mommy at Vicenzo’s, a blustery walk to the Kentucky Center for the Arts and then a Louisville Orchestra concert in the Whitney where at last I got to sit in one of those little boxes up on the sides, the ones with red velvet chairs. And the greatest treat was this: it was the world premiere of “The Way Forth” a monumental new folk opera by my old friend Rachel Grimes.

Waiting for it to begin, we could look down on everyone below, and Louisville being Louisville, we could pick out the people we knew, those we knew from long ago, those from just the week before. Look, there are the Foshees, parents of a young woman who was once in the youth group I led at in another lifetime. Over there are people from The Dartmouth where my mother used to live, and right below me is my old high school friend- Kate! I almost shouted down. There was time to look and time to think about Rachel, her long history with our family as a classmate of my little sister. She had always sat at the piano and just played, not knowing how to read music had not stopped her from making music. A decade later she and I reconnected to make theater together a number of times. Besides dancing to her exquisite score for “Egon Schiele”, one of my favorite performing memories is of “Scribblings from a Broad” also by my friend Stephan Mazurek, that we staged as a dialogue between myself and her piano. In brilliant improvisation, she responded to the performed text, the music in turn drove my performance. She was a glorious acting partner.

This evening was part one of the Louisville Orchestra’s American Music Festival. The first part of the evening saw the premiere of new choreography by the Louisville Ballet for Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, music that I love. And it was performed brilliantly- the ballet, dancing in front of the orchestra, built to an inexplicably emotional climax that brought me to tears. Golly humans are miraculous.

But we were there for Rachel, for her music, for her. She has known much grief these last two years with the unexpected death of her dear brother, another gifted musician, followed by the slow decline and death of her mother. This music grew out of her love for them.

What does one do with the accumulation of story, of family history? So much is lost generation to generation, but echoes remain. Stories, photos, letters, mementos saved from forgotten travels, pressed flowers in a family bible. The faces peering out of these photos, maybe we know their names, maybe we don’t, but somehow they are left in our care. Those pressed flowers- no one knows the giver, no one knows the receiver, no one knows the occasion, but to throw them away is more than I can manage. I close the book carefully and put it back on the shelf. I feel responsible for them, all the echoes and shadows of the past. I’ve always felt somehow entrusted with their stories, a duty given to me, and with it, a guilt- what if I’m not up to the task? What shall I do to honor them? Why do I feel such a duty to do it? And what does one do with grief? What does one do with the grief one cannot help but carry?

“The Way Forth” gave voice to the silent dead, resurrected their stories, glimpses of them, uncovered the past and there’s the danger- great pain is often buried with the dead. Our collective history is rife with it. Her music shifts from personal to communal and back again with new awareness that one’s own past is woven into a vast tapestry. The bloody treacherous history of this state has been whitewashed, quite literally, for centuries. The victors erected monuments telling their story of grandeur and heroism and inevitability. But look deeper and the heroes are slave holders, rapists, con men. How should we remember them? Rachel answers through music- she lifts up those whom they oppressed. She lets them sing.

Oh this music! So much beauty, so much pain, layers and layers build- the orchestra, vocalists, actors, the choir, the silent film that ran throughout- building until you can’t take it anymore and you wonder how you will bear it, the burden of the past with its evils and its losses and its impossible sweetness. And then comes- grace. A release that can only be achieved through music, waves that finally toss you onto higher ground. Oh Rachel. Thank you.


Her music is a gift.

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