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The Restorative Power of Music—an ode to joy from Rochelle

The Restorative Power of Music — an ode to joy from Rochelle

The New York Times Arts Culture reporter, Javier C. Hernandez, on August 30, 2022, wrote about the concert at Tanglewood led by Michael Tilson Thomas. A year after being diagnosed with glioblastoma (an aggressive form of brain cancer), Thomas refused to be confined by his illness. He took the podium at the Berkshires music festival, raised his baton and continued to do his work. As he’d done for many summers before, he conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The performance was electrifying, a true Ode to Joy” and, like Thomas’s words in Hernandez’s piece, uplifting, both professionally and personally. He spoke of the potential of orchestras to bring the parts and pieces of music together… to achieve a unifying purpose” and of music’s ability to help each of us to accept and forgive yourself.” 

I have kept one eye and an ear open to what Michael Tilson Thomas was doing since the early 1970s, when I worked as a newbie in the paste-up bullpen at the newly founded, New York magazine. T‑square and rubber cement in hand, I began to understand how the way information was presented could create positive change for people. And I began to experience that change for myself as I read the stories I was pasting up. One of the first pages I worked on was a review of the early conducting of Michael Tilson Thomas. A bright future, someone to follow, the story said, and I did, in recordings, concerts and articles as he served as artistic director of the New World Symphony, music director of the San Francisco Symphony and then lifting his baton often at Tanglewood.

In 2012, Thomas created a PBS documentary paying homage to his grandparents: The Thomashevskys: Stars Of The Yiddish Stage. Who knew he was related to them? In Yiddish and broken English, I grew up hearing about the great Bessie and Boris Thomashevsky, especially Bessie, who played roles dressed in men’s clothes and championed human rights, labor issues and the immigrant struggle. She and Boris had theaters, and they told stories that shaped values that inspired my parents.

Their theater was entirely a theater of social consciousness…their great concern was for the audience, and they wanted to open up the world beyond the ghetto experiences of their audiences.” Thomas told NPR’s Fresh Air” host Terry Gross in a 2012 interview. They wanted to introduce them to the full possibilities of what freedom could mean in the United States through the plays they presented, through the music they gave the public and also through the kinds of topics their plays addressed.” 

Michael Tilson Thomas inherited his grandparents’ social consciousness. He picks up and waves his baton keenly aware of his audience and never forgets the advice his grandmother, Bessie Thomashevsky, gave him to conduct his orchestra considering, “‘What is it like for people beyond the sixth row?’” He continues to bring joy to his audiences, understanding and insight to his students, and his commitment to be present and at peace is a lesson for all of us. His music goes well beyond the sixth row.

Sources: The New York Times, A Star Maestro, Fighting Brain Cancer, Finds Peace in Music” by Javier C. Hernandez, 8/30/2022