Above all else: Joy

 I was recently invited to participate in a concert with members of the Tulsa Symphony at the elegant Boston Avenue Church of Tulsa. It was a wonderful experience. One of my favorite things about traveling is seeing new places and meeting new friends through music. I certainly made many friends there! I am very fond of museums and my gracious hostess, Janet, took the time to share many of the open secrets surrounding the nationally-renowned Philbrook Museum. In our tour, she pointed out a work by sculptor Harriet Frishmuth. She was one of the very few American students of the great master Auguste Rodin. The story goes that as a young sculptor she had struggled with finding her own personal stamp and was looking for someone or something to inspire that gift. The great French master had one piece of advice for her—show joy. This reminded me of Salzburg. A few months ago, I traveled there to bear witness yet again to the miracle of El Sistema, the system of youth orchestras and choirs envisioned by the Venezuelan social reformer Jose Antonio Abreu. As we were both listening to a very young conductor lead the rehearsal of a children’s orchestra, he noticed something was not quite right. There were some minor issues with the ensemble and the intonation was somewhat scrappy. (This was an important concert, the stakes were very high.) Maestro Abreu, known to be conscientious for precision and of the slightest of technical details didn’t try to point to these issues. Instead, he quickly interjected to offer advice. “Muestren Alegría,” “Show Joy,” he said to the musicians. With that brilliant stroke the room began to light up, there were smiles exchanged. Everyone became much less worried of the technical hurdles and more into the feeling of letting go and enjoying themselves. That feeling was contagious even to the dozen or so people that were at the rehearsal. It was then that the music really happened. It was a reminder to all that joy has to be one of the most important ingredients of artistic transcendence and the only vehicle for authentic communication. In the words of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, showing joy generates “a net of love by which you can catch souls.” And that is the greatest gift an artist can offer. Both Abreu and Rodin are right—it is joy that makes all the difference. 

The Philbrook Museum gardens. 

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