Inanimate objects hold energy but do they hold memory? Some would argue that they do. I pondered this the other day in Sara’s kitchen. Sara, salt of the earth boot straps girl who made her way off the plains of Texas as a young woman because she had grit and a world class singing voice that got noticed. Noticed in competitions by judges, then teachers and conductors in the world of opera. Her talent and hard work took her around the world performing and eventually into love and marriage with world class Maestro, Christopher Keene. They shared a huge life, moving from success to triumph on the international stage. I never had the privilege of knowing Mr. Keene, but knowing Sara I cannot imagine he’d ever have found a better life partner than she. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music, a keenly discerning ear, an egoless support of artists…you get the picture. As happens life moved on for them decades ago. Too soon Christopher was gone but Sara has thrived over the past several decades on her own in a multi chaptered, full life. Her home, the walls of which are lined with posters bearing witness to legendary performances of yore is filled with a constant rhythm of family and of diverse friends, most of whom are musical, all of whom are interesting, engaged and up to something good.
I wanted to give you this background because you will understand why it was that Sara was able to pull a box with remarkable contents, from her shelf.
As we sat over coffee… Uh oh, have to interrupt again…Sitting over a libation or meal with Sara is never just that. The famous, the workman and very famous sit elbow to jowl at her table in equal welcome. Conversations are robust and sometimes I feel her walls will burst from the peals of laughter they have to contain…and oh the stories! Disasters averted or survived, feverish opening nights, diva meltdowns and through it all the music.
OK…the box…she placed the rectangular box from her bookshelf on the kitchen table and as she was opening it said, “What do you think I should do with these batons?”
The opened box held six batons, six magic wands that had drawn music from orchestras around the globe. They’d helped lift black notes off the printed page, bent tones mid air, cued masters in their own right, had been the swaying beacon wooing it’s handler’s interpretation of a given score once again into the atmosphere. Staring at the batons I had the feeling that if I listened carefully enough I’d be able to experience for myself the passions they’d stirred. Apparently Maestro Keene’s favorite baton had been the most simple, a slim white needle with a tear shaped cork handle. No added weight nor adornment and the cork would’ve solved the slippery challenge perspiring hands might present. There was a terribly heavy black baton adorned with silver filigree that had been given the Maestro by a Maharajah. Yet another in this collection had belonged to Toscanini. Toscanini! I tried especially hard to listen to that one.
A baton holds focus, pulls the collective energies of those assembled before it into an harmonious one, out of potential chaos makes order to produce and to give something beautiful away. Seeing these wands meant that those musical geniuses had been real, meant that they had led music in magnificent concert halls, co-ordinating sometimes upwards of one hundred musicians. These events had happened, their blessings felt, their epiphanies and emotional swells lived.
Years ago Sara bought a rambling turn of the century inn in New England. Notes on a yellowed score, she’d seen the potential and had taken it on. No small task. As if that had not been enough to tackle she additionally took on the renovation of a ruined barn that sat on the back acres of her property. The first time I saw it was on a frigid January morning. Sara and I stood, with teeth chattering, on the barn’s floor beams looking at the frozen dirt below and waved at the birds sailing through the crystalline sky above. I saw bones, she saw a performance space. She had interpreted the score. Within two years The Barn had become a thriving establishment that continues to draw audiences from far and wide so much so that it has been featured in Vogue as a cultural hot spot.
Sara is a practicing, ecumenical Christian who through her eight decades plus has made strong demands on her faith. There have been times when all but her faith and music have failed her. Health, loved ones, funds, world events, friends…all of it. One Easter morning I asked her what had got her through? “Prayer” she answered in a delicious drawl. Somehow that led to an hysterical story of how Agnes de Mille had helped potty train Sara’s infant son in between rehearsals in Vienna for the European premiere of “Carousel”, Maestro Keene conducting/ Ms. De Mille choreographing. I circled back to prayer asking her how she prayed? “Oh that’s easy. I drop to my knees, clap my hands together, look up and holler DO SOMETHING!” Surely that’s the crescendo. No score is too daunting for her to take on.
If The Barn is the score, Sara is the baton. On a regular basis she lifts her interpretation off the page and with great intentionality draws dreams out of thin air, translates them into something beautiful and gives them away. She both holds and makes memories. At the ready Maestro.