Paul Greenberg

After great pain, a formal feeling comes --

-- Emily Dickinson

Before the final chamber music concert of the season at the Clinton Library here in Little Rock, there was a celebratory reception. It should have been a gala evening, but it was the night after the bomb blasts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and a pall still hung in the air. Like the dust and smoke on Boylston Street the day before.

Of course Boston would be a target for terrorism. With its libraries and museums, its universities and medical centers and classical music around every corner, its mix of Brahmin culture and working-class Irish grit, it is a kind of cross-section of American civilization itself. On the way to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, a fan might pass a young virtuoso playing in the MTA station, his violin case open for honoraria, or what we in these latitudes would call a free-will offering.

That's Boston, that's Western civilization, and isn't that any terrorist's real target, civilization itself? As it was the anarchists' in another century. As it is the tenured elite's at every university intent on dumbing down the liberal arts. Tonight, in a provincial capital a thousand miles and a regional culture away from Boston, its sorrow and strength can be felt. For after great pain, a formal feeling comes. A certain constraint. We are all Bostonians tonight.

The evening's music weaves the familiar together anew. There is a classical version of Amazing Grace (Higdon). Next on the program is the feature attraction of the evening, Aaron Copland's old standby "Appalachian Spring," newly arranged and imagined.

The sound of chamber music fills, and overflows, the chamber. Packed with chairs for the overflow crowd, the great hall of the Clinton Library seems to grow greater, almost symphonic in its dimensions. For this version of "Appalachian Spring" calls for 12 instruments. That's right -- 12. Four violins, two cellos, two violas, and one each flute, clarinet, bassoon, contrabass and, in tonight's case, one talented young conductor. Geoff Robson comes into his own one once he's got a baton in his hand, leading, coaxing, timing, inducing.... More than his own, for he becomes the music. This is what a great gift gives a man.

The old Bible hymns that form the backbone of "Appalachian Spring," composed as the most awful of wars was finally ending, can be picked out with the comfort of recognition, like safe harbor in a sea of troubles. After a great war comes great peace. The peaceful past comes gently back, and we remember where and who we once were.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.