I walked away from choir practice with a sense of quiet. It was as if a piece of me which had been tense and vibrating with worry and anxiety and distrust had stilled and stopped disrupting my internal rhythms. My choir teacher was energetic, harsh to some but only those who weren’t paying attention or from whom he expected better. But though I have a feeling I will gain much from being taught by him, it was not sitting in his class for an hour and a half which had stilled my concern. It as that, suddenly, once again, I was allowed to sing, to hear my voice not raised in exercise or in preparation but in harmony with those around me. I was not preparing or studying: I was singing. And I felt my heart clearing, as if I was a small stream which had been chocked with the brick-a-brack of the auditioning process, the need to fit in at a new school and all of those everyday hassles which can characterize a life. But, singing with other men and women, I felt clear.
Our professor read us a piece from Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi which is quoted below. He said he knew we were here because we had come to Carnegie Mellon hoping to do something special with music. And to get here we had been prodded, inspired, goosed and encouraged by that dream. He told us that we would hate everyone around us in the coming years and we would exist within an unreal situation: one where we were nurtured and coddled. And we could focus our minds on nothing but the details of learning to sing—but no matter what, we must keep in mind our initial dream and not lose that for any reason.
Here is the quote he read:
“Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river! I still keep in mind a certain wonderful sunset which I witnessed when steamboating was new to me. A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood; in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold, through which a solitary log came floating, black and conspicuous; in one place a long, slanting mark lay sparkling upon the water; in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings, that were as many-tinted as an opal; where the ruddy flush was faintest, was a smooth spot that was covered with graceful circles and radiating lines, ever so delicately traced; the shore on our left was densely wooded, and the somber shadow that fell from this forest was broken in one place by a long, ruffled trail that shone like silver; and high above the forest wall a clean-stemmed dead tree waved a single leafy bough that glowed like a flame in the unobstructed splendor that was flowing from the sun. There were graceful curves, reflected images, woody heights, soft distances; and over the whole scene, far and near, the dissolving lights drifted steadily, enriching it, every passing moment, with new marvels of coloring.
I stood like one bewitched. I drank it in, in a speechless rapture. The world was new to me, and I had never seen anything like this at home. But as I have said, a day came when I began to cease from noting the glories and the charms which the moon and the sun and the twilight wrought upon the river’s face; another day came when I ceased altogether to note them. Then, if that sunset scene had been repeated, I should have looked upon it without rapture, and should have commented upon it, inwardly, after this fashion: This sun means that we are going to have wind to-morrow; that floating log means that the river is rising, small thanks to it; that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody’s steamboat one of these nights, if it keeps on stretching out like that; those tumbling ‘boils’ show a dissolving bar and a changing channel there; the lines and circles in the slick water over yonder are a warning that that troublesome place is shoaling up dangerously; that silver streak in the shadow of the forest is the ‘break’ from a new snag, and he has located himself in the very best place he could have found to fish for steamboats; that tall dead tree, with a single living branch, is not going to last long, and then how is a body ever going to get through this blind place at night without the friendly old landmark.
No, the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat. Since those days, I have pitied doctors from my heart. What does the lovely flush in a beauty’s cheek mean to a doctor but a ‘break’ that ripples above some deadly disease. Are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay? Does he ever see her beauty at all, or doesn’t he simply view her professionally, and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn’t he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?
Mark Twian, Life on the Mississippi
In other new, CMU has water again as of Saturday, Iowa is allowing gay marriages and here is a picture I took this weekend in Washington DC: