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Lessons from the High Priestess of Percussion


My twelve-year-old son turned to me and said, "She's like a Samurai." Evelyn Glennie had just performed Schwantner's Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra at the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro. On my feet and applauding wildly I leaned over and replied, "That's it. You nailed it."

Watching Evelyn Glennie perform is transformative. Beyond the obvious layers--extraordinary precision and musicianship on par with any of history's great virtuosos--is something profound; something I promised myself to never forget I'd witnessed.

For me, there's nothing in Schwantner's Concerto for Percussion that's deliberately sentimental or touching. The music serves different purposes. Discovering tears in my eyes three times during the performance, I was left to figure out why. One thing was clear: It was Evelyn. The sparkle in her performance would have prevailed had all the sound been sucked from that hall. It was in her body language. It was in the way she put stick or mallet to instrument with sage-like delivery of each and every strike, no matter how loudly or softly, how rapidly in succession, how assertively or compassionately. There was graceful leadership, too, in the way she leaned into the music, turning her left cheek to feel it, bending forward to connect solar plexus with sound. These were wise, loving, teaching gestures; the body language of a high priestess healing a wounded warrior.

What fearlessness. Nothing gets in Evelyn Glennie's way, least of all herself. There is an "I have to" about her playing. Most of all, there is that quality I want more than any other for myself and for every human: Immediate, continuous, courageous interaction with The Powerful Good.

This is the kind of experience that marries me to music over and over again. No other art form delivers it as readily; no other artist I've seen, as directly as Evelyn Glennie. If you ever have the opportunity to watch her perform, don't let it pass.

(This promotional video clip provides a glimpse: )

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