I sat at my breakfast table today with two professional Russian singers and discussed the choral pronunciation of “across the wide Missouri” from “Shenandoah.” My husband and I explained what a schwa vowel was and how American singers approach diphthongs. Between bites of cinnamon muffins and sips of coffee, we introduced them to Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” on You Tube, a piece they had never heard, and which seemed to interest them as possible repertoire for their superb quintet, “Lyra.” They listened to our chorale’s version of “Silent Night,” which is what prompted the discussion of diphthongs and schwa vowels. As our dogs begged for food at the table, one of the singers talked about his dogs, a dachshund and one he described as a philosophical Pomeranian, given more to contemplation than hyperactivity.
Lyra performed gorgeous sacred music from the Russian Orthodox tradition along with delightful folk tunes, as part of our church’s concert series this weekend. Sixteen of us went to out to dinner afterwards where we introduced the singers to the joys of crab cakes and fresh fish. We ate together and drank together and figured out how to understand each although they were quite fluent in English. They loved the restaurant meal and were so grateful not to be fed lasagna. Again. We learned about their families and how they handle being away from them for weeks at a time. Everyone circulated around the table, so we could all interact and learn and laugh. Even the waitstaff seemed to enjoy serving us.
Yes, this is another example of connecting through music, but the point is connecting. In our current atmosphere of spending so much energy on hating and fearing people who are different from us, it felt good to hear voices speaking with an accent, to listen to each other’s stories. To step away from the madness and share pictures of children and pets on our phones. To help someone figure out a restaurant menu and explain the difference between rockfish and grouper and what a crab cake is. No one mentioned politics. There was no need. We were too busy enjoying each other’s company.
Our breakfast companions left us today with grateful hugs, a beautiful calendar of scenes from Russia and an invitation to visit their country We thanked them for sharing their incredible talent and wished them well on their journey. As I went on with my tasks for the day, I was again reminded that there is powerful hope in music and in raising our heads out of the sand, even briefly, to hear the songs of others. As Anne Lamott says, “Grace bats last,” and we are all in this together.