Thursday, June 9, 2016


Open Door, Bethlehem, Israel

Ever since I can remember I have set a clock radio to the local NPR station to civilly wake me for the new day. For those of you that listen to public radio, you know that the BBC covers the late night hours until early morning. Today I was rising early and was awakened by a soulful, haunting melody that was being broadcast from Brittan before the baton was handed off to America. The music somehow resonated in the depths of my subconscious, so I stayed and listened to the radio.

The melody was simply being whistled in the early morning hour. And one of the accompanying poignant stories was of a man who was being interviewed after spending time in solitary confinement in apartheid South Africa. He had maintained his sanity by walking in the windowless cell and whistling this celebrated melody from Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony 9 in E Minor, OP 95, From the New World; II LARGO. This second movement had been translated into a popular spiritual titled Goin’ Home by one of his pupils. The Czech composer created this symphony while in America as director of the National Conservatory of Music at the turn of the twentieth century. Dvořák’s main goal in America was to discover "American Music" and engage in it. He stated that he used elements from American spirituals and Native American music in this work. Both venues incorporate the pentatonic scale in their music. The prisoner had found great solace when he heard a faint echo of the whistle coming from a distant cell in the building. Later, he met the stranger who also took comfort in the music and learned that they were both passionate about anti-apartheid and Dvorak.

Another story was about a group of British women that had been living in Singapore at the beginning of Japan’s WWII invasion. They ended up in a soulless prison camp, but found salvation and a reason to survive by slowly creating a women’s choir that practiced singing the melody in small groups. When they finally coordinated their combined voices, she recalled that “freedom had ascended into the heavens from the hell hole of our existence”. Another story revolved around the memory of a now adult man who was in a high school orchestra. He recalled that they had progressed enough to prompt their music instructor to have them attempt the second movement. It did not go well initially and the students became discouraged. Then the instructor confided in the students that he had selected this piece because it held significant meaning in his life. Early in his music career he had been unemployed and broken-spirited. He had pawned his viola for a suicide gun. Then he told them that he heard this music and it saved his life, “so may we please continue?” The student reflected that testimony became a turning point for everyone and they went on to a lasting bond culminating in a wonderful performance.

Some music goes straight to the heart, some resonates with the intellect. This music pierces the soul. “From The New World” is the most popular of Dvorak’s works and has been performed more often than any other symphony at the Royal Festival Hall, London. If the music seems familiar it may be because it has been widely used in all media venues such as films and advertisements. I don’t know if the distressed folks in these stories knew the words to “Goin’ Home” or the music simply was apt, but the ending words to the song certainly applied:

Morning star lights the way
Restless dream all done
Shadows gone, break of day
Real life yes begun

There's no break, aint no end
Jus' a livin' on
Wide awake with a smile
Going on and on

Going home, going home
I'm jus' going home
It's not far, yes close by
Through an open door
I'm jus' going home

Going home, going home

If you’d like to jar your memory, here is a link to a few minutes of the second movement on YouTube:

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