Yo-Yo Ma Plays Beethoven’s Triple Concerto at Tanglewood. Drawing by Carolyn Newberger

Illuminating the Hidden Forest, Chapter 38: Comforts for the soul

Social distancing is easy in the outdoors, yet also offers the opportunity for community and connection.

To read the previous chapters of ‘Illuminating the Hidden Forest,’ click here.

March 19, 2020

Last night on the NPR news, Jeffrey Brown interviewed Yo-Yo Ma about music as a comfort for the soul. Mr. Ma spoke of his musical voice as “Finding the needs of others and then representing them.” He expressed hope that his music would be a comfort to people at this terrifying time. Ma then played a short excerpt from Dvorak’s New World Symphony. He played with his eyes closed, the music seemingly flowing directly from his heart into ours.* I could see Jeffrey Brown fighting back public tears as my eyes filled with my private ones.

This beautiful episode reminded me about the importance of finding comforts within us as we face the dread and uncertainty of the danger around us. Music is one of those comforts. For many people, faith is another. We need to connect with what comforts each of us.

In this time of sequestration, the comforts of community are more difficult to come by, but not impossible. Friends and family are reaching more frequently for the telephone and FaceTime to check up on each other and to admonish each other about protecting themselves.

Sanctuary. Watercolor by Carolyn Newberger

For many if not most of us, nature is also a comfort. Social distancing is easy in the outdoors, yet also offers the opportunity for community and connection. Our daughter described how her neighborhood is changing. People are out on the street walking. Neighbors who hardly knew each other are exchanging greetings across their 6 feet of distance, inquiring after each other’s well-being, creating a community where one didn’t exist before.

Walking in our parks and forests provides both solace and community. Even though their offices are closed, Audubon sanctuary trails are open for hikers. Yesterday in Kennedy Park, we found peace in the spare openness of the woods, in their quiet calmness, in the sound of water flowing from the beaver pond through the culvert and into the brook below.

We encountered many people on the trail, and our greetings felt especially meaningful. On one of those encounters, we met a veterinarian with his wife and two exuberant retrievers. We struck up a conversation that gave me a chance to ask a question that has been on my mind: “Can dogs get the coronavirus?” He knew the answer, which is that there has been only one reported case in Hong Kong. However, he added that the virus could possibly be transferred on dogs’ fur. Now I know not to pet the dogs on the trail while enjoying the comfort and delight of the social connections with their owners.

Many sources of comfort are here for us, including music, our neighborhoods and the forest trails. Finding peace in the forest is a way, literally and figuratively, of staying grounded, of drawing strength, and of reaching out to others.

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*My ever-analytic husband and co-music reviewer, Eli Newberger, had this to say about Yo-Yo Ma’s performance: “His arrangement used sustained notes on the lower strings to signal the harmony, and on the upper strings, his dynamic nuances were subtle, powerfully expressive and moving. The high harmonic at the end was stunning.”

You can view the interview and performance yourself at https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/yo-yo-ma-on-encouraging-songs-of-comfort-amid-global-crisis