Quietude is your most likely attribute at the lake in the heart of winter

Posted on May 4, 2012

(Originally published in “Park Cities People,” February 26, 2010)

Because we have deep roots there, and because it’s where we built a house near water that laps upon the shore like words of Yeats, we spend our winter holidays in Montana. In the easy seasons it is a reliable heaven on earth. In the winter it is either snow-covered peaks against bright skies – or grey isolation.

This Christmas, the strain of travel weighed a little heaver on eye and muscle when the first morning hours arrived, enveloped by low clouds and the dark of the longest night of the year. The world was in harmony only with the lure of another hour in a feather bed. One querulous goose flapped and honked over a hundred of its kind, all floating on the cold lake with a caking of snow on their heads and backs. They ignored him, and we all claimed a little more sleep.

And then, when the world was right, the inevitable call of one bird to some willing other began again, and the day could unfold toward coffee and breakfast. It’s in that moment that the vacation begins, and you are no longer tempted to begrudge the forsaken comforts of Christmas enchiladas and the twinkling lights of the village we leave behind here.

Nowhere in the city do you get that call and response, and such a reliable ordering of things. Except, maybe, in the still moments of the classical music concerts that surround us – but are avoided like chores that someone else might stumble upon before us. We tend to pass on them because they take us from easier comforts – but that’s exactly where something like the quiet of the lake can be found. There is a literal mimicking of the call and response of nature in Mahler and Mozart, and there are endless brooks and meadows in Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner. That is where you’ll find the time to slow down. To take stock and be reflective. And to capture a spark or two of inspiration.

What surrounds us at the lake is God’s handiwork. But this music, and these concerts – are the labor of many. The composer – the literal creator of a new parcel of time. The performers – gifted with both the “ears to hear” and then create it again, taking black notes from a page and hanging beauty in the air. And, last but not least, it is the work of knowing presenters and listeners.

Ours is a remarkably well-paced city. There is not a lot of standing around and griping, and a more than usual of the simple rolling up of sleeves. That life has its own rhythms and demands, and leaves little time for an evening out of routine that may or may not deliver on a promise of inspiration. But there are not many places on this side of the Atlantic where you will find yourself with so many choices. (And literally no other place where the opera house will ring with an operatic whale tale.) The scale of what the donors to the Arts District have accomplished is, still, staggering. We will likely not see so much wealth and generosity so fully coordinated as either gift or legacy in our lifetimes.

But our fabric of first-order arts stretches beyond the architecture of Flora and Pearl. I spent a few recent years on the board of Chamber Music International and was enriched equally by the concerts and by proximity to board members who spent their personal time tracking down each fifty dollar matching gift lost in some company’s red tape, just to keep the enterprise intact through another season. The fruit of the effort is an arts presenter with a quarter-century history of bringing together performers you would hear at Lincoln Center, or in Vienna or Prague, or in Aspen in the summer. The music itself is intimate – with charm and intelligence and gentle interplay. It is, in all, one of the quiet accomplishments that fill the corners of Dallas with class. But it is not breaking news that these are difficult times for non-profits. I would not, at this point, take for granted that any of these arts groups, even after decades, will always be there. This far into this economic downturn, more than a few of the groups which have survived hang by a thread, thanks only to the persistent efforts of tireless friends. If you have given to TACA, know that your money is particularly well-spent. When they hand out grants on Friday it will be, for more than one worthy arts group, a reprieve as well as an acknowledgment. If TACA has not found you, and you have the means to befriend any of these groups with small gestures – with time and talent, with a contribution, or with the underwriting of a concert for a friend who could not be more suitably honored, or for someone whose memory should be kept alive – or even by filling a seat yourself – we will all share a little grace from your action. Thus, it turns out, are entire communities built and sustained.

And if you’re there on the right evening, you’ll hear the conversation of Canadian geese in the depth, resonance and beauty of the simple layering of strings and woodwinds, and elephant ivory keys.