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So exclaimed Mary R Woodard (no period after the letter R), her body broken by decades of washing, ironing, and cleaning for others in St. Louis, Missouri. As a child she hunkered down in a ditch in Christian County, Kentucky, and watched her twenty-year-old uncle lynched for looking at a white woman. Following her move North as part of the Great Migration, her experience of racism morphed into “bitter with sweet meanness.” Psalm 37 protected her gentle spirit from its contagion.

 Into Mary’s life came another outsider, Jane Ellen Ibur, a toddler living in an affluent home with a swimming pool. Screaming battles with her parents led her to seek Mary’s bosom, in their basement where she ironed.

This little girl subsequently became a teacher and a poet who honored her mentor in this poetic memoir, both wings flappin’, still not flyin’ (2014). Their mutual selflessness defies words: Mary’s habitual recourse to God and Jane’s care of her the last eleven years of her life—such reveals the brilliance of the Sacred Feminine.

We learn from them.

 

“The answer to those who would kill the human spirit is to revenge with beauty,” says one of the musicians with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, as found in this inspiring documentary (2016), directed by Morgan Neville. Another musician from Tehran asks, “Does my playing the clarinet stop a bullet?” Such comments speak of an evolving form of music, never before heard or even imagined that enlivens spirit.

How did this ensemble come about? The impetus came from the Chinese-American world-acclaimed cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, and his need to distance himself from the traditional music he had mastered for decades and to plunge into the shadowy void of his unconscious in search for something new.

In 2000 Yo-Yo Ma scoured countries near the Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes joining the East with the West, looking for one-of-a-kind musicians, composers, and artists, many of whom had been scarred from revolutions in their countries. That summer he brought these strangers with their native instruments (a pipa, a duduk, a Shakuhachi, a morimn khuur, a Mongolian horse head fiddle, and many others) to the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. Months of painstaking listening, of playing “natural, from the heart,” and of interweaving harmonies from differing cultures, eventually transformed them into the new sound Yo-Yo Ma sought. Their end-of-the-summer-concert evoked in inexpressible AH! from the audience.

It was the 9/11 disaster, however, that convinced the ensemble to continue working together and to share their ever-new evolving voice all over the world; it speaks of peace, of harmonious living—the antidote to the killing spirit intent upon the division and mayhem infecting the globe.

 

 

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Oh! It’s over!

The audience jumps up, cheering, clapping, hugging friends, waving programs in the air. Explosive energies vibrate the floorboards and penetrate the stucco ceiling of Powell Hall in St. Louis, MO. Remembered strains from Beethoven’s Chorale Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (1824) still excite imaginations, while its German conductor Marcus Stenz, baton in hand, swings from the podium and moves offstage.

Eyes glisten, smiles ache, palms sting. Foot stamping adds to the pandemonium and again Stenz appears, honoring the four solicits, the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, and the principal chairs of the symphony. Then, he bows, still held captive by the audience, its din waxing and waning. No one wants to leave.

This almost two-hour-long cosmic drama has transported us from the pedestrian stuff of our lives to “the sparkle of God,” as evidenced in Schiller’s Ode to Joy (1785), some of which Beethoven wove into the final movement of this symphony. Perhaps his tortured spirit, plagued by decades of stomach disorders, of heavy drinking, of deafness, of inadequate funds, of difficult relationships found expression in his Chorale Symphony, thirty years in the making. Having sifted through the stuff of his life, he found deep Joy within. He was free.

The applause of that first audience stunned him to tears. He passed three years later.

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