Once, long ago, an international symposium was held that brought musicians, therapists, educators, composers, and psychologists together for the first time to explore music therapy and its emerging mission in the world. The spiritual force behind this symposium was Barbara Hesser, a pioneer in music therapy, who has deep insights into the chemistry of bringing people together who somehow share her quest for creating meaning through profound interaction in improvising music together or through meditation, or through sharing thoughts through inspired discussions and exchanges.
She has over the years created summer retreats in Phoenicia at a place on Panther Mountain where musicians, practitioners, and people pursuing a body of work came together for renewal and inspiration. My first experience with this group was when we came together in a sanctuary in the mountains and without a word, after a period of silent communion, began to improvise over the course of several hours, vocally, instrumentally, moving from instrument to instrument. As we got to know each other musically, our awareness deepened, setting the stage for some profound exchanges during the rest of the week.
At the conference were a number of luminaries, and one in particular was Lorin Hollander, a brilliant concert pianist and former child prodigy who at one point in his career redirected his energies to search deep within himself. Now Lorin Hollander's musicality and spirituality are inextricably linked, and his music connects with the world. Hollander's interests and commitments take him continually to new regions of experience which he shares at many levels through many venues.
At this particular symposium, the full group split into working groups to explore the state of music therapy and to make recommendations that would affect the profession and the public. The culmination of the Symposium was to be a press conference and Lorin Hollander agreed to a brief performance as part of the activities of the day. It was a day of excitement and high energy, with the promise of excellent and challenging outcomes from the interdisciplinary deliberations that had taken place over the week.
After the announcements and discussion, Lorin Hollander took his place at the piano and explained that he wanted to play the first movement of the Schubert Posthumous Sonata in B-Flat. As he took command of the piano and adjusted his seat, he tested the pedal. There was a squeak that came from the pedal, a slow, almost rhythmical sound as he pressed the sustain pedal. He tried the pedal a few times and the sound persisted. Instead of being annoyed, he looked at the audience and remarked "Oh, well...we'll just pretend we are on a cruise..."
After a silence, he began playing the first movement. He was fully engrossed in the music and I was struck by the sense of quiet celebration punctuated by mysterious, ominous interruptions in the lower register from time to time. His performance emerged as a journey, a personal reflection that took us with him through an extraordinary perception and realization of the work. He had somehow managed to transcend the piano's limitations and find the voice and spirit of Schubert as an ally. Schubert's genius flowed through the room, an inexhaustible imagination of musical ideas imbued with feeling and emotion.
As the first movement came to an end, Hollander paused and then began the second movement, even though he had intended to limit his performance to the single movement. Even now I can hear that silent pause and the opening figures of the second movement. As fine and inspired as the first movement was, Hollander's performance entered a new realm, a spiritual sensibility pervaded the room, an ineffable eloquence unlike anything I have ever experienced, sad and joyful, full of regret and hope, resigned and invincible. The journey had become a spiritual quest, a presencing of the human spirit that encompassed the room and united everyone in the moment. The first movement's ominous interruptions in the bass had been transformed into an underlying and reassuring presence. When the closing passages echoed and encapsulated the beauty and expressive power of the entire work, a fading musical farewell reverberated into silence so slowly that the sound seemed to linger and echo in the room even though it was absolutely silent.
No one moved. There was no applause. Everyone, including Lorin Hollander, was captured in that moment, that magical moment in time, when silent awe was the only appropriate response to an experience that transcended time and left us suspended in the ecstasy of a fulfilled inspiration. That was long ago, but that performance still resonates in the silence of my memory as vividly now as it did at that symposium in that remote and distant past.