I went to the symphony a few times in high school and I really loved it. And then I never went again until I started dating a symphony harpist twenty-five years later. I lived in Walla Walla and Bethany lived in Salem, Oregon. Whenever she had a Friday night concert at Portland’s First United Methodist Church, with Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra, I would have arranged to leave work at Walla Walla Foundry midday on Friday. I would drive 3 1/2 hours west through the beautiful Columbia River Gorge so that I could get to the church in time to change out of my jeans, T-shirt, and steel-toe boots and into dress slacks, a white button-up shirt, black dress shoes and a blazer. Every time I sat near the front row and slightly to the right, directly in view of the harpist. She was often nestled behind the cellos and bassists or sometimes she was situated in the front. My first symphony painting was in my choice of medium at the time: rattle-can off-the-shelf spray paint. I don’t think I had even noticed yet that the harp has seven pedals, but I had painted Bethany at her harp almost immediately after my first experience seeing her there.
My first symphony oil painting was “Salem Symphony”, where she was out front on a slightly lower platform than the rest of the symphony. My second full symphony painting was “Portland Columbia Symphony Low Strings” that places her so prominently, and accurately to my vantage and affection, that the rest of the symphony seems to fade into the distance. But I love this symphony and I am making friends there.
And so, based on the core of musicians directly in front of me, is the following cropping:
I look forward to painting Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra again, but next time I intend to show just a little less harp-centric bias.
About a year ago, history was made at the historic Elsinore Theatre in Salem, Oregon. The theatre is like a boroque castle with gothic cathedral domes and ornate trimmings on every edge and corner. Maestro Anthony Parnther, guest conducting from Los Angeles, joined with Joshua Bell and Salem Symphony to create a truly moving and thrilling performance for a packed house. I was seated in the upper balcony where the air had been steadily warming over the duration of the concert. Bethany had played harp in the first half and now was free to sit with me for the second half. Even to my less-than discerning eye and ear for violin virtuosity, Joshua Bell was exceptional to see and hear. His physicality was like an organism to which the instrument was an intrinsic part and the music was unlike any I had heard in its clarity, fluidity, and elevation. I loved the way Maestro Parnther moved. His substantial frame light and bouant on the balls of his feet as his hands danced lightly like he was conducting fantastical woodland creatures, and his largeness swooned with the flow. I felt the audience swell in joy and appreciation as minutes disappeared into transport. The audience’s internal criscendo erupted into applause and shouts of, “Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!” Mr. Bell consented to an unheard of eight curtain calls in the triumphal culmination of Salem Symphony’s inaugural, and as the musicians discovered only a matter of months later, its final season.
I met with Maestro Parnther a few months later as we dined in Eugene, Oregon. I liked him and our conversation never slowed, and even diverged for a few minutes into our common ties to Samoa in the South Pacific. I have largely forgotten the language though I used to be fluent, and his Samoan mother had taught him in some of the culture’s ways. And so I painted this painting to remember this special night in a special way, and to acknowledge the greatness of human experience possible with collaboration.