Gratitude, Just When We Need it Most

Monday, November 21, 2016 - 09:37 AM

People and things who contribute to the greater good can make us feel better and, yes, grateful. People and things who contribute to the greater good can make us feel better and, yes, grateful. (Irudayam)

Even when it does not seem to be the case, there is so much to be grateful for. As the days grow short and cold, I find that acknowledging those people and things who contribute to the greater good makes me feel better and, yes, truly grateful. For me, so much I am grateful for is found and expressed in music. But not only.

I am grateful to be a New Yorker. Despite the city’s evident shortcomings and latent cruelties, it can still provide soul-stirring affirmation, unmatched cultural enrichment and humane behavior from complete strangers just when you need it most.

I am grateful for the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and all the constituents of Lincoln Center. I am grateful for Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, BAM and all the presenters large and small who endeavor to bring us opera, music, theater, dance, film and visual arts that are beautiful and thought-provoking. I am especially grateful for Oskar Eustis and the outstanding and relevant work being done at the Public Theater, which is in a golden age right now.

I am grateful for all the magnificent composers who labored, and often suffered, to give us the extraordinary operas, symphonies and chamber music that provide millions of people with elation and solace. I am grateful for every note Rossini wrote, especially his fabulous crescendos that cannot help but induce giddy joy.

I am grateful for James Levine who, in his 45 years at the Met, has had more positive influence on the company than any musician has had in any theater in the entire history of opera.

I am grateful for Marco Armiliato, who is conducting 11 performances in a row at the Met from Nov. 18-30, including two weekend doubleheaders of La Bohéme and Aïda. This beats his own Met record of six in a row that he achieved in 2012. Between Nov. 14 and Dec. 3, he will have conducted 17 of the 19 performances given at the Met, with a doubleheader of Manon Lescaut and La Bohéme on Dec. 3.

I am grateful for WQXR, and not only because I have the good fortune to be part of what it offers to listeners and readers. WQXR began broadcasting on Dec. 3, 1936, and has provided balm and pleasure ever since. I recall after 9/11 that it was a sacred oasis that only played music when most media were saturated with words and images. Many people have told me lately that the station has been a precious refuge in their troubled lives.

I am grateful for taxi drivers who listen to WQXR. Many New York City cabbies have classical music on during their long shifts. A lot of these drivers are from Africa and most of them have their radio dials set to 105.9 FM. On Nov. 16, I had a long and wonderful ride with Mohammed, an Egyptian, who told me that he listens all the time because, “Music makes you smart and it is good for the heart.” More than a few cabbies have told me that when they play WQXR they get bigger tips.

I am grateful to citizens of all types in my beloved country who will assure that the walls we build do not separate Americans from one another.

I am grateful for people who quietly sacrifice and care for others with all kinds of needs. These are the citizens who weave and strengthen the fabric of our lives.

I am grateful for opera companies that develop amazing new works, such as Fellow Travelers in Cincinnati and Breaking the Waves in Philadelphia. I am grateful that the new New York City Opera just presented Fallujah by Tobin Stokes and Heather Raffo, which tells us of the extraordinary sacrifices made by veterans in battle and at home. I am grateful to the soldiers even if I do not always agree with the wars they are sent to fight.

In a talkback following the performance, I asked a veteran who previously did not know opera how he responded to music being paired with text to tell the story. He replied, “Music gives those words life.” I am grateful for that.

I am grateful for friends who really are friends rather than “contacts” or “connections” whether in life or on social media.

I am grateful for my five senses and the pleasure and insights they afford me. I am grateful for my insatiable desire to create and my ability to do so.

I am grateful for artists, writers, actors, dancers, scientists and people in every walk of life who insist on growing, trying, risking, sometimes failing, but always aspiring to climb higher mountains every day.  I am grateful for Aretha Franklin.

I am grateful for the Great American Songbook, whose composers and lyricists created music decades ago that still touches and inspires us in profound ways. I am grateful that so much of this music has been recorded by magnificent singers. I am grateful for YouTube! I am grateful for Tony Bennett, who wears lightly a lifetime of exquisite work and remains as artistically vital and relevant as ever. I am eternally grateful for the nonpareil Ella Fitzgerald. If I don’t want to go “there,” I go to Miss Fitzgerald, who takes me to all kinds of extraordinary places. She has been my frequent companion in recent weeks.

When I do want to go “there,” I am grateful for the many superb singers now before audiences who are able to lead me. These include Ferruccio Furlanetto, Christine Goerke and Anja Harteros — I will be incredibly grateful to the theater that brings her back to New York. I am grateful for Bryn TerfelJoyce DiDonato and Karita Mattila who, as Salome, reminded us that the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death. I am grateful for Thomas Hampson, whose remarkable sensitivity in finding the special place where music and text meet can make a song transcendent.

I am grateful Richard Strauss composed the music that perfectly set “Zueignung” (Dedication) to a poem by Hermann von Gilm. The song, I think, is the most perfect musical expression of gratitude. And I am grateful that Fritz Wunderlich recorded it.


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Comments [9]

caroline laing from Oxford, England

And a belated but heartfelt hurrah from Oxford UK, where even now the sun is shining out of a clear blue sky, illuminating the glorious buildings of this city. We are so fortunate in endless ways; comparatively small setbacks like elections and referenda can loom large and block the view and our appreciation of those good things that are constant. Access to wonderful music so readily whether live (the best) or via electronic means is the most fabulous bonus in our age - and the knowledge that there are clever people creating and improving aids to hearing so that even anno domini will not lead to silence.... Thank you Fred for distilling this list for us, and for being you.

Nov. 28 2016 06:18 AM
James from Sleepy Hollow, NY

Thank you, Fred, in expressing thanksgiving for the joys of music and hearts and goodness in our souls. Thank you, too, all the lovely people who've expressed their words (even from Russia and Venice!) in harmony within this magnificent phenomenon we call Life! May all the more joy be yours.

Nov. 24 2016 01:13 PM
Stephen from SoHo

I am grateful to WQXR for providing Fred Plotkin a platform to write such poignant articles.

Nov. 23 2016 01:34 PM
Kathy from Casa Fortuna

I am grateful to know you, Fred, and to live in a society with such vast cultural bounty -- and the freedom to express ourselves.

Nov. 22 2016 08:39 AM
Cara De Silva from NEW y

Thank you so much for this, Fred. I am sitting here in Venice, working, with tears in my eyes as I form my own thanks giving list, of which, of course, you are such a great part. But I am also filled with gratitude for every single thing you put on yours. What an utterly beautiful and much needed piece.

Nov. 22 2016 05:13 AM
Vera from St.Petersburg, Russia

Thank you, Fred, for these beautiful words. I'm grateful for many things too and for you as well.

Nov. 22 2016 01:02 AM
Marianna from Manhattan

...and I am grateful for Fred Plotkin who nearly always touches my heart and speaks truths just at the moment when I/we need them most. Bless you.

Nov. 21 2016 04:29 PM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

Thank you Fred. You wrote it better than I could ever say.
And thanks for the recording by Fritz Wunderlich who left us too soon. I am also thankful for the fine columns you write.

Nov. 21 2016 01:59 PM
Veronica Reed from Albuquerque, NM

Beautiful, Fred... I'm/We're grateful for so many of the same things and people, even tho our New York Life is more like a wonderful exciting memory now... Here we are grateful for brilliant sunshine, sparkling air, Art and Music everywhere around us, friends of school years and incredible beauty every day.

Nov. 21 2016 01:24 PM

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Operavore is WQXR's digital 24/7 audio stream and devoted to Opera. The Operavore blog features breaking news, expert commentary and reviews by writers Fred Plotkin, David Patrick Stearns, Amanda Angel and others. The music stream features a continuous, carefully programmed mix of classic and contemporary opera recordings.

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