Found Utopia

It is called New Harmony, Indiana.  It is my first time here, recommended by friends Walt and Thanne, and Don and Edie.  As I approached New Harmony driving east on I-64 in Southern Illinois, the sun was setting behind me (blindingly bright in the rear and side view mirrors) and a daytime full moon rose in front of me.  The moon was a faint perfect circle when it first appeared before me and slowly became brighter and more pronounced against the darkening sky.  A wild turkey flew across the road in front of me and landed in a nearby field.  Soon afterward there were three dear grazing alongside the highway.  There is a quaint European feel to New Harmony.  It started 200 years ago as a Utopian experiment.  It remains a center for intellectualism, writing and the arts.

In the bar area I had a wonderful spinach salad with bacon. chopped eggs and a traditional dressing, accompanied by a cup of black bean soup, washed down with a Doppelbock Dunkel German beer –  followed by a dram of Lagavulin single malt scotch whiskey, a very peaty Island scotch from Islay, aged for 16 years, ending in  Pedro Jiménez dark Sherry barrels.  What a pleasant way to end a long day of driving.  The bartender’s mother lives in Munich, Germany, so we were able to compare notes on Bavaria and Oktoberfest.  Another customer at the bar, Jerry, had grown up near New Harmony, spent 24 years in New York City supporting theater productions, and then returned to live in New Harmony.  Apparently a production of which he is a part is currently hoping to survive on Broadway.

Among other things, the last few days have included contrasting experiences in music.  The nature of the audience participants was almost as interesting as the concerts themselves.  Audience comparisons will come at the end of this post.

The first was the Kansas City Symphony at the Kauffman Center.  It was my first experience with the KC Symphony other than the rare treat of hearing them at the Symphony in the Flint Hills last summer out in a beautiful, remote outdoor setting.  This performance at the Kauffman provided a world premiere of Water Music by Daniel Kellogg, three movements, each based on one of the many Kansas City fountains.  It was quite contemporary, difficult to play, but expressive and accessible even to those of us accustomed to more traditional classical musical patterns.   Next pianist Yefim Bronfman’s fingers flew up and down the keyboard, often interacting with the timpani in a Bartok piano Concerto that took me to a place of intense drama I had not yet experienced in adventures into musical performance.  I have never seen so much percussion as an integral part of symphonic music as was used in the first two pieces.  That concert ended with Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony.   I had attended the session with the conductor, composer and pianist before the concert, adding to the experience.  My seat was in the highest balcony, close to 75 feet from the floor of the concert hall, practically hanging from the ceiling.  The fellow sitting next to me was also a tenor who I discovered had also sung with Schola Cantorum in Kansas City, a choir of the American Guild of Organists with which I sang when we lived there.  My tenure was very many years before his.

The next concert was a completely new experience for me.  The performer, Philip Glass performed his own compositions.  While he doesn’t approve of it, his music is often referred to as Minimalist.  It is considered classical music but is well beyond the limits of the usual forms.   One of the pieces at this concert was an unaccompanied violin solo in seven parts lasting 32 minutes.  I was never bored!  That surprised me.  I had come to the evening thinking it would be a learning experience bringing frustration and hard work trying to listen to very dissonant pieces.  Instead I found myself caught up by each piece.  The solo piano pieces seemed very repetitious, but they pulled me in and kept me thoroughly involved from the first chord to the last.

In the lobby at the Philip Glass concert I talked at length with the head Administrator of the Kauffman Center.  She uses the “walkabout” approach to management of staff.  As we were talking a couple came up who looked very familiar to me.  They turned out to be Board Members of the Friends of Chamber Music who were at the same gathering that I crashed by invitation just a very few weeks ago.

Last night’s concert was a dramatic contrast to the first two.  Last evening I attended a performance of the group from Ireland called Celtic Woman. That group has done PBS specials for the last few years.  They are hugely popular in the USA.  When I was in Ireland, I asked someone about them and got only a puzzled stare.  The people I asked had no idea who or what Celtic Woman was.  The group was very entertaining.  The band used traditional Celtic instruments, and the six person choir sang well as did the three solo singers and the solo violinist.  It also was more entertaining than I expected it to be.  The three lead singers did a great job of winning over the audience.

At the symphony, there was time to talk with seat mates, and they were friendly, willing to talk.  I don’t have a clear picture of the demographic represented by the audience.  It may have been light on young people and heavier on the mid to older adult population.   At the Philip Glass concert, the audience seemed to include lots of twenty something folks.  They were a combination of sophisticated and a little Bohemian at the same time.  My minimal attempts at conversation led me to believe that it would be best not to try to engage them in conversation.  By contrast, the Celtic Woman audience was young and old (more old than young) and conversation with other concert-goers was very easy to initiate and sustain.

It is getting late.  I had best get some rest so that tomorrow I can soak in some of the history and character of this place.

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4 Responses to Found Utopia

  1. Jim Bender says:

    Man, you are soaking life in! I am so happy for your adventures and re-connecting with passions and making new connections with new places and people.

  2. Frank Lambert says:

    I believe that you may have discovered that Utopia is all around us.

  3. Love New Harmony – I had the privilege of visiting twice, and both times proved to be physically and spiritually renewing. I recommend seeking out a labyrinth to walk (my first experience with a labyrinth vs maze was in New Harmony); and spending some time in the roofless church. Enjoy your stay!

    • PeterT says:

      I thought you very likely had been there. I hope to get back so that I have time to do the labyrinth. The two hour walking tour was very informative — such an interesting history. The weather was beautiful.There really is a serenity about the place.

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