A segment on 60 Minutes last Sunday night has left me pondering anew the power of the abstract in a world dominated by materialistic concerns. It was about a symphony orchestra (above) created by a devoted group in the world’s poorest country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. If ever there was a people without material comforts it’s the people of this wretched war-torn country. Yet, instrument by instrument, through commitment and sacrifice, they have built a magnificent orchestra.
They had no background in classical music. The founder of the group, a former airline pilot, even had to teach himself to read music. Yet they have mastered skills that few have attained in the most privileged societies. When CBS showed them performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, I was moved to tears. The music seemed divinely inspired; their faces glowed with out-of-body ecstasy.
Their bellies might have been empty but their hearts were flowing over.
Growing up in Jamaica, which is not as poor as the Congo of course but poor enough, I was surrounded by music of all kinds. It was the balm that soothed the sting of daily life.
So much of what we humans do is therapeutic. Listening to music – all kinds of music from rap and hip-hop to the sublimest strains of Beethoven and Bach. And, yes, watching and playing sports.
On the face of it, it’s appalling that golfers can win more than a million dollars in a single tournament when people in the Congo must go hungry to acquire their precious instruments. And what about those baseball and football players who rake in millions of dollars? Obscene? Perhaps.
And perhaps not.
Icons like Tiger Woods are bigger than golf. Jackie Robinson was more than baseball. They are beacons of hope and pride for millions of people.
And on a different level, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino … Or Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg, Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam…
And not just golfers of course but all of the legendary athletes that captured our imaginations from Michael Jordan to Muhammad Ali, from Babe Ruth to Wayne Gretzky, from Hank Aaron to Sugar Ray Robinson… the list goes on and on and on…
They have provided mere mortals with a glimpse of another world, helped us escape the mundane dreariness of our own lives for a few moments as we shared the joy of performing a difficult task with consummate skill. And, later, out on the golf course or ball field, or in the gym, we can try to emulate their techniques, escaping in the process from those real-life burdens and afflictions that drag us down.
So, it’s heartening to read in this morning’s news that Tiger’s back is doing fine after surgery, that we will see him in action again soon, that Michelle Wie has finally won an LPGA tournament on American soil and is playing this weekend. And it’s comforting to turn on the TV and see the Detroit Tigers playing ball. They come to Lakeland, where Sandra and I live, for spring training, you know.
In a world where war seems unceasing and hunger incurable, where super bugs emerge to counter the most impressive advances in medicine, where our loved ones grow sick and die, or are snatched from us by tragic accidents… in a world where greed and avarice are so often rewarded and decency punished, where those we trust so often turn out to be crooks… in a world where careers flounder and septic tanks back up and there seems to be nobody who knows how to fix anything … in such a world, there is sublime music in the Congo and Michelle Wie is on the tee at the Swinging Skirts Classic in California.
I just might make it through the weekend after all.