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Thoughts after the Symphony

Rob is opening up his blog space today to Connie Carter, AWTT’s Education Director. In her inaugural AWTT blog post, Connie reflects on her recent Sunday afternoon at the symphony, exploring the metaphorical lessons of ensemble performance.

Bangor Symphony Orchestra2
Bangor Symphony Orchestra

An afternoon at the symphony — why does that always inspire me to write, to ponder, to philosophize? As I sat listening, responding, and, yes, enjoying, I wondered why we in the world can’t be more like the orchestra. They always work together, but sometimes they rest, sometimes they play — sometimes in harmony, sometimes in dissonance. But always, they listen; always they work for the good of the whole, for the way flutes and cellos and violins and trumpets make a sound that is so much more than the individual instrument. Often they may feature a soloist, like at today’s concert — an amazing cellist. She played Dvorak for forty minutes — from memory! She had her moments of both showcasing her incredible talent and blending with the orchestra.

Cellist Ifetayo Ali Landing
Solo cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing performing with the BSO

Then there is me, the listener. I was carried away by the beauty of the sound — not always. Sometimes I struggled to find the harmony because maybe there wasn’t any. Sometimes the pace was too slow or too fast, but always I was transfixed by the idea that music takes me to a place I rarely go. It makes me listen, think, appreciate, wonder, and feel. Yes, feel a part of something far larger than I am; feel that even though I am the audience, I am an important part of the picture because without me the feedback is a bit less meaningful. All of those hours of practice might go unappreciated without all of us who listen, sigh, applaud, and occasionally yell “bravo”! And what gifts do I bring to the symphony? I bring a different opinion, perhaps a different language or culture, and a different level of understanding. But together, the audience and the orchestra, we are a world. We are the doers, the thinkers, the listeners, the speakers,
the workers for the common good.

AWTT panel at Blue Hill book signing event - like a symphony
Blue Hill, ME Robert Shetterly with panel of AWTT portrait subjects, 10/6/2022

And now I step back three days to Thursday night at Emlen Hall in Blue Hill, a night featuring the release of Portraits of Earth Justice, beautiful portraits of Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) by artist Robert Shetterly. To bring even more meaning to the book, the evening featured a panel of AWTT portrait subjects — Sherri Mitchell, Florence Reed, Tim DeChristopher, and Steven Donziger. Each of them shared a brief snapshot of a journey — a lawyer and indigenous rights activist whose instrument frames contemporary challenges through native wisdom and values, an environmental activist for sustainable harvest and rain forest protection whose instrument supports and brings together a whole orchestra of technical assistance and funding for Central American farmers who want a sustainable future, a climate justice activist who years ago tuned his instrument to stand against the fossil fuel industry as he played a solo part in making a bid that would save the land and lessen environmental degradation, and finally an environmental lawyer whose instrument joined many others in the orchestra of those fighting to stop polluting the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador and as a result was silenced, given a lot of measures of rest which allowed time to breathe and build a bit of dissonance with the hope of creating harmony for the world.

As I listened to the stories of their journeys, I was struck how, like the orchestra, they were all playing a part in a much larger whole. They were teaching and learning the tunes of earth justice, of common good, of knowing when to breathe, when to rest, when to play at fortissimo and when to let another instrument have a solo moment. We, the audience, had a role as well. Our role was and continues to be action, support, affirmation. We need to listen, learn new music, know when to be a soloist and when to blend with others, when to rest, and mostly, like the orchestra, use our energy and our talents to create sustainable harmony and beauty.

Bring Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) original portraits to your community.