In the Presence of Greatness

The ancient Greeks thought that certain men were divine, such as Pythagoras, Apollonius of Tyana, Alexander the Great, and in Homer, the great warrior Diomedes was called divine.  Other than Jesus, I am not one to deify human beings.  But I think I know what the Greeks were getting at.  A few times in my life, I’ve been in the presence of humans who affected me with such power that it was almost divine.

I just returned home from a concert by the Tallis Scholars.  They sang late Renaissance/early Baroque music a capella.  I listened breathlessly as the counterpoint melded into harmonies and phrases were tossed from bass to soprano, intricate cadences and all perfectly in tune and with perfect rhythm.  It wasn’t only the music, it was also the performance.  I have Renaissance music on my iPod,–in fact, I have recordings of the Tallis Scholars themselves.  But listening to these recordings don’t do what that concert did.  I was in the presence of greatness–in the compositions they sung and the way they sung them.

I’ve been in the presence of greatness before, without getting the impact this concert gave me.  I’ve seen Bob Dylan in concert, an awful concert at that, Santana, a good concert, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer three times, and others.  I saw Steve Martin walking around in a New York art gallery.  But I wasn’t transported like I was at the Tallis Scholars concert.

The first time I heard Handel’s Messiah in the city I now live in was one of those experiences.  I alternated between heartfelt smile and tears of joy.  I went a second time a year later and the performance didn’t make such an impression on me.  This is going to sound funny, but another time I felt that power was at a bicycle race.  I stood near the finish line.  So I saw the cyclists in the last quarter mile.  That’s when they opened up.  In the home stretch, the cyclists gave it all.  Seeing those men giving 100% almost brought me to tears.  Another time I was at a Latin music festival and onstage there were four dancers giving it.  Watching them, too, made an impression on me.

I drove home from the Tallis Scholars wondering why I worried about things like money, traffic, material possessions, the worldly preoccupations I’m driven to pursue.  Seeing such a perfect dedication to art took me into another space, a special place, a holy place.

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