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Boston in Little Rock

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

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.

The swelling, restorative music ascends, buttressed by folksong after folksong, alternating between lush and lustrous, as if illuminated by light from above, culminating in that old Shaker hymn:

'Tis the gift to be simple,


'tis the gift to be free

'Tis the gift to come down

where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves

in the place just right,

'Twill be in the valley

of love and delight . . .

When true simplicity

is gain'd,

To bow and to bend

we shan't be asham'd,

To turn, turn,

will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning

we come 'round right . . .

Somewhere in a mountain meadow, an eight-year-old boy who loved to run and climb, whose picture was in all the wirefotos out of Boston, plays forever. And the music, like simple gifts, never ends. There is no terror there, only peace. As there will yet be in this world. We shall overcome. Some day.

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