On NC Symphony

“Monday Musings” for Monday October 26, 2015

Volume V. No. 44/252


Art Series: No. 92

 The Life of the North Carolina Symphony

and Sonata Form Music

By Assad Meymandi,, MD, PhD, DSc (Hon), DLFAPA*


(Editor’s note: Below is an excerpt from a speech paralleling the life of the North Carolina Symphony with that of Sonata form music)

I am honored to be here. As I look around the room, I see many luminaries and leading citizens of Raleigh and the region. Everyone should be introduced and recognized. Alas, time does not allow. It seems that every one in the audience would make an illustrious role model.

Speaking of role models, in my own life, besides my parents, older siblings and family, I have three role models. They are Saint Augustine of Hippo, born 354, died 430, a Manichean converted to Catholicism by Saint Ambrose (Sanctus Ambrosius, Ambrosius episcopus Mediolanensis), Bishop of Milan. Augustine’s teachings and sermons were about Grace and Salvation. He was prolific and wrote 5.3 million words in his lifetime in the form of books, sermons and treatises.

My second role model is Moses Maimonides of Cordoba, born in 1135 and died in 1204. He was a colleague skilled in internal medicine, psychiatry and infectious diseases. In addition, he was a theologian, philosopher and teacher. His famous trilogy, the Commentary on the Mishnah, the Mishna Torah, and the Guide for the Perplexed has carved his name in the hard stone of posterity and literary immortality. He wrote on medicine, philosophy, hard science of astronomy, debunking astrology and superstition. Like St Augustine, he was a polymath and a polyglot, conversant in Greek, Latin, Arabic, Italian, French, his native tongue of Spanish, and of course, Aramaic and Hebrew. He, too, wrote 5.3 million words in his lifetime. Among his writings, are twenty four volumes of Halakhic, Rabbinic and Talmudic laws.  His masterpiece Epistles of Maimonides on ethics, public health and prevention is recommended reading for all. While Augustine’s passion was grace and salvation, Moses Maimonides elaborated on “Nefesh”, which is the Hebrew word for soul, grace and ultimately salvation.

My third role model is Ibn Khaldoun, a Moslem theologian, economist and music lover, who was born in1335 and died in 1404. Among his writings is the theory of trickledown economics that the late President Reagan adopted. In addition, he wrote 30 volumes of Islamic Laws (Fatwa) with long essays and theses about bringing back music and painting to Islam. This is a topic worthy of a separate lecture. He, too, wrote 5.3 million words in his lifetime. Khaldoun was fascinated by “Al Rooh” which means soul, just as Maimonides was with “nefesh” and Augustine was with “grace and salvation.”  These three individuals wrote about 16 million words in their lifetimes.

While I do not profess to have read every word they wrote, I have read a good bit of it. It is my privilege to offer the audience a souvenir, like a gift wrapped with a bow that you take home from a banquet like this. I will give the gist of what these three men said about living a life full of grace life (not a graceful life). They said the  secret to a life full of grace and the path to salvation is simply “to be aware of what is good inside of you, such as love, compassion, intellect, caring for others, generosity, selflessness , nobility, reason, thirst for truth and appreciation for beauty, and to know what is good outside of you, such as family, friends, connectedness, occasions like this to come together with intellectually stimulating people, nature, trees, flowers, music, dance, poetry and words. And to be thankful for them by giving something back…”  This is the root of altruism and philanthropy.

Speaking of music, I will now concentrate on the gift of classical music and the life of our beloved institution, the North Carolina Symphony (NCS.)  I see the life or biography of NCS as very similar to a Symphony in sonata form with five movements.

As we all know, the purpose of the first of the five movements of the sonata form is to engage intellect, inviting the audience to think. The exercise of stimulating and engaging the brain by setting the intellectual theme for the symphony is very important. The first movement of the sonata of the life of the NCS was the wise decision of the NC legislature to create the Symphony in 1932, during the depths of Depression when money supply was very tight. They passed the “Horn Tootin’ Bill,” allocating money to start the ball rolling. Pioneer conductors, Lamar Stringfield and Dr. Benjamin Swalin, nurtured the organization in its early years.

The second movement was when the NCS moved from Chapel Hill to Raleigh in 1972. Memorial Hall of Raleigh became the home of the NCS. The Symphony grew and consolidated during the next thirty years.

The third movement, the minuet (the dance), came with the building of a new home for the Symphony. The Concert Hall opened on February 21, 2001 to much critical acclaim for its superb acoustics by the press, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal which sent reporters to cover the events of the opening night. The acoustics of the hall are phenomenal, and are often mentioned in national music magazines and literature.

The fourth movement was hiring of our new conductor, Maestro Grant Llewellyn. We are now celebrating his signing a contract extending his tenure with us for five more years until 2017.

The fifth movement was at the opening of the new Concert Hall, when from the stage I announced the goal of improving the quality and size  of the orchestra by acquiring twenty more strings. And we are on our way…

The next stage in the life of the NCS should integrate the intellectual and reflective (first movement), emotional (second movement), dance like minuet (third movement), physicality and below the waist rhythm (fourth movement) to allow the audience to leave the concert hall transformed…

We believe in the sanctity of classical music. We believe that as we need food, air, and shelter, our intellect and soul need the arts and music. In his paper about public school, in 1781, the iconic Thomas Jefferson wrote that children born in America should learn not only the three Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic, but they need to learn and enjoy the arts.

Finally, a word about America: As an American by choice and not by birth, I am convinced that In 1776 God commissioned, in a divine and mysterious manner, a group of faithful thinkers to lay the cornerstone of a new experiment that in a short span of time has become the envy of the world. The experiment is the Republic they created. It is our United States of America. I am convinced that God had a definite hand guiding the framers of our constitution in creating this profoundly decent and just document. The American Constitution, as a literary piece, combines Augustinian grace, Franciscan tenacity, Christian hope and possibility, Talmudic order and Zoroastrian aspiration for good deed and perfection. It is a talismanic masterpiece with magical powers. We have seen Sultans, kings, Shahs and potentates come and go. But governing by the rule of law, the unique legacy of the American Constitution and the nobility of the Bill of Rights are here to stay.

We should all be proud to be Americans. I know that I am humble and grateful to be an American. And I am grateful to be a citizen of Raleigh, NC, a state whose motto is “Esse quam Videri”, (to be rather than to seem). I will do my best to transform Raleigh into a late fifteenth century Florence where the arts, music, poetry and dance will flourish; where brisk intellectual conversation and children’s laughter will fill the air of its vast parks where fountains will flow with life and energy. We support the arts because the arts elevate the majesty of the human soul.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, Life Member, American Medical Association, Life Member, Southern Medical Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).

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