Summer nights are what we in the northern hemisphere live for, well at least this one does. Staying out until last light, waiting for fireflies and stars to transform the landscape, the afternoon heat to cool into sweet night, to live fully through the whole of a day. There are many jokes about the seasons in Vermont and in many respects this one is true: there is July and the other season. But, for now, at the start of this glorious month that allows for morning and night lake swims, fresh strawberries and peas, bike rides through the woods, and time to gather with friends on a hillside to listen to orchestra music, I will celebrate.
With a picnic blanket, packed cooler and low chairs we set off to hear the Vermont Symphony Orchestra perform atop the mountain at Trapp Family Lodge. The legendary von Trapp family settled in Stowe, Vermont in the 1950’s, building a year-round Austrian-style resort that to this day equals their reputation. The views from their property allow you to witness the curves and spine of the Green Mountains for miles in every direction and provides the perfect backdrop for the orchestra. For an hour or so before the concert began we staked out our spot and enjoyed the last rays of a warm sun with a glass of local Snow White wine paired with Cabot cheddar. There is something powerful about being outside, away from computers and chores for the sole purpose of enjoyment that makes you exhale, lean back, and begin to relax. While our picnic was a simple affair there were many around us with elaborate feasts spread out on collapsible tables and benches–these were serious picnickers–taking their moveable feast to a culinary high!
As day began its shift to night, the evening air blew us into our shawls and hoodies while the music started to hush the crowd. This Music in the Meadow performance was titled “Let’s Dance!” and captivated us all with Gershwin, Strauss and Copeland. As the lingering light turned the silhouetted mountains to black we listened to the orchestra recreate the polka and waltz and dance favorites from the fabulous Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington. Typically, when we attend the symphony, it is a white-hair crowd, but here, on this broad expanse of grassy field, there are people of all ages. Teens huddled shoulder to shoulder, young couples double dating, children running in packs, babies on their parent’s lap, and everywhere multi-generational clusters relishing their evening together.
Throughout the musical program there were quite a few couples who left their chairs to spin about on the grass. The music certainly encouraged one to get up and move. As they danced these couples looked carefree and 10 years younger than they really are. Several knew their moves: they dipped and swung together as one force. Kids popped up too. Evidence of ballet training was obvious in the occasional plie’ and pirouette, but I was drawn to the long graceful arms of one young lady whose hand mudras exploded into a tour de force as the orchestra reached a crescendo. For a short time orchestra and audience became one: body and soul drawn together under the broad sky, all separation giving way to the rising moon and the orchestra’s melody.
Remember relaxation? In our multitasking and overworked and driven society this state of mind gets harder and harder to achieve. While it may appear in many of my blog posts that I am doing little other than having fun, I find myself racing around more and more, not less and less as one might suppose we would with new technologies at our fingertips. “In the pre-cell-phone, pre-e-mail days, it was possible for people to find respite when they left the office. But, as David Solomon, the global co-head of investment banking at Goldman, told me, “Today, technology means that we’re all available 24/7. And, because everyone demands instant gratification and instant connectivity, there are no boundaries, no breaks” (Surowiecki , The New Yorker).
Children are equally being driven in this trend toward doing more. “It’s more and more common for parents to schedule their children in a wide range of activities, primarily to keep them busy and engaged, or to help ensure they maintain a competitive edge in sports or academics. “In some ways, it’s the way the world is going,” Martinez noted. But she encouraged parents to offer children a balance between some structured time, where they can learn a specific skill, and some free time“(Gray, CBS News). This encouragement is the result of numerous studies which show “The more time kids had in less structured activities, the more self-directed they were and, also, the reverse was true: The more time they spent in structured activities, the less able they were to use executive function,” said study author Yuko Munakata, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Boulder.”
When will we make time to unplug? To allow our children to daydream as we sit in silence next to them? To have an hour or afternoon or day of nothing? To hold hands in the dusk? To unwind until we feel joy bubble up? To rise and dance without care? To smile with those we love? To connect to our deeper selves?
At the concert’s conclusion, fireworks burst into the total darkness during Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Collectively we clambered to our feet and with raised voices cheered as the percussion matched the loud cracks and booms. Freedom rang down the green hills to the valley below and echoed back into our softened hearts: this, this, this!