The crack that lets in the light

Wall after earthquake

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ~ Leonard Cohen

For some reason, I’ve been keenly aware lately of a sense of decay, seemingly everywhere. I’m not referring to the beautiful fall leaves, or anything related to a natural cycle, but rather the decrepit state of our roads, our sense of civic duty, our commitment to each other. It’s as if the entire infrastructure of life is crumbling from the edges. Perhaps the sorry state of our roads is but a metaphor for the current state of life. Or, maybe it is just me—the result of recovering from something (and aren’t we always doing so in one way or another?), or maybe it’s because I’m on the doorstep of 60. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost beloved family members and pets in recent years…I really don’t know…

But I do know what helps: Music. Tuesday it was conducting The Planets; yesterday and today it was listening to Bach’s B-minor Mass. Both are established monuments. And once established, MUSIC is one of the monuments that never decays. Holst is as fresh as it was a century ago. Bach’s music is as deeply moving as it was 300 years ago. So while the potholes will inevitably keep forming, the bedrock remains stable if we just open our ears, our minds, and our souls. Music is light.

Thanks for coming to my mini-Ted Talk/therapy session. It’s fall break. This is the danger of me having a moment to think.

Copyright, 2022. Robert Baldwin Before the Downbeat

Every creative act exposes, even as it expresses.

In order to make art, we need to push beyond our comfort zone. I have made a career of urging people towards that edge, and sometimes well beyond their comfy borders. Love it or hate it, it’s what conductors and music teachers do. This is how any art is made, be it music, visual, literary, dance, drama, etc. I am but one in a long line of teachers, conductors, composers, and authors who similarly pushed themselves, and all of us. It is only natural (and fair) that I require this of my students and myself.

I’ve been at it long enough to have figured it out in music…for the most part. The public side of my writing life is relatively new, however. I still find that my poetic and other creative writing activity challenges me more, not only in terms of creative vulnerability but also in the willingness to show my work to others and to “getting it out there.” Risking criticism is part of the process, as is dealing with rejection. But it is admittedly often uncomfortable.

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing

You may have followed the publication of my first poems in 2018, the competition that resulted in the emergence of the chapbook this past year, the 100+ Hike-oo (Haiku created on the trail and shared online during the pandemic), and the recent “Saga of the Cave.” While all of these were cool achievements, none were easy. They also exposed vulnerabilities even as they opened new possibilities. None were easy.

Today is no different. I am sending off a manuscript of 60 poems to a publisher, my second attempt at a real book of poems (the first attempt was rejected…remember, it’s part of “the game”). I’m also sending a few individual poems in to some rather big places. All are long shots, but you can’t hit anything unless you first notch an arrow, aim, and let fly. Translation: create, edit, and press submit.

A little luck also helps.

Stay tuned…and…

“Never tell me the odds.” (Han Solo, Empire Strikes Back)

Copyright, 2022. Robert Baldwin

Image: Sunflower from my backyard.

Bach…In a cave!

I greatly enjoyed performing at Timpanogos Cave National Monument on Saturday for their Centennial Event. I am continually grateful for these opportunities to create and share art, and to meet up with old students and friends (in this case Lara and Toru Tagawa and their son, who also played in the cave). Today’s activity inspired me to compose the short story below. Please enjoy if you have time to read. Excuse the third person narrative ­– it just seemed to work better.

Preludes, Caves, and Cosmos

The day was warm as he began his journey, bordering on hot. Few would understand the importance of this day – the mountain, the climb, the cave, the music. He began by strapping a viola onto his back. More than just an instrument, the viola had been with him for 5 decades. Not this same viola, of course, but he’d had played the instrument since joining a school orchestra in the 4th grade. He’d been hiking since before that, but like music, both had morphed from chore into life-sustaining practice.

The only sounds that would accompany his steps were the music and words of great sages: Bach, Whitman, Sappho, Shakespeare. He was bold enough to include one of his own poems. It seemed somehow appropriate. As he reached the cave entrance, a guide took him to his place, deep inside the mountain – a place of public performance, and private ceremony.

He unpacked his instrument and adjusted the tuning. His hands had swollen from the hike, yet were oddly clammy from the cool underground environment. The soft rosin on the bow had begun to harden with the 50-degree temperature change from outside to inside. Nonetheless, the sound came as he knew it must. He put bow to string, focused upon the friction that drew sound, and became the first chord, G-major, moving to the next, C-major. Relativity lost all meaning in the waves of arpeggios bouncing off mysterious acoustics of stalactites and flowstone, the tones, reflecting off walls formed millions of years before this “old music” was ever composed.

An occasional appreciative tour group filed past. To them, he read a poem and played a little gigue. But mostly he played to the cave. He gave his soul to the music, to the words, and to this life he was blessed with continuing. The ancient formations responded like a cathedral, one the masters never imagined. Unique harmonies appeared. This cave had always known overtones, yet never experienced them organized in this particular way.

When the music ended, a transformation had occurred, though no visible changes were apparent. The cave returned to silence. He packed up and left the way he’d come, back down the mountain, knowing every note, once played, never fully recedes. His passage had been recorded, somehow – the gift, now received.

Written after performing at Timpanogos Cave National Monument, 8/13/22

Copyright, 2022 by Robert Baldwin

Photo credit: Laura Tagawa

UofU Orchestras Fall Concerts!

University Orchestras Fall Concerts, 2022

Utah Phil, September 15 – Opening Concert – Musical Portraits

Robert Baldwin, conductor

Duke Ellington: Three Black Kings

Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations

Utah Phil, October 28 and 29 – Halloween Concert –

Fantastic Notes and Where to Find Them (featuring the UofU School of Dance)

Robert Baldwin, conductor; Matthew Makeever, Brandon Horrocks,

and Brenden McCauley, assistant conductors

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5, 1st mvt.

John Williams: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Concert Suite

Igor Stravinsky: Tango, Waltz and Ragtime from L’histoire du soldat

Paul Dukas: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Leroy Anderson: The Typewriter

James Newton Howard: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Suite

Piotr Tchaikovsky: Finale from Swan Lake

Campus Symphony, November 16 – Passports, Please!

Robert Baldwin, conductor; Matthew Makeever, Brandon Horrocks,

and Brenden McCauley, assistant conductors.

Felix Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture

Aram Khachaturian, arr. Stone: Adagio from Spartacus

Bedrich Smetana: Three Dances from the Bartered Bride

Edvard Grieg: Three Pieces from Sigurd Jorsalfar Op. 56

Myroslav Skoryk: Melody

Mohammed Fairouz: Pax Universalis

Jill Jackson and Sy Miller: Let There Be Peace On Earth

Utah Phil, December 7 – Simply Amazing!

João Pedro Silva, alto saxophone  – guest artist; Robert Baldwin, conductor

Adolphus Hailstork: Fanfare on Amazing Grace

Luís Tinoco: KokyuuConcerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra (2020)

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, op. 67


I sometimes get cockamamie ideas…well ok, if you ask my spouse, I’m sure much of the time I have cockamamie ideas. Occasionally though, one actually comes to fruition. I’m looking forward to “digging deep” for my next project: a performance of solo Bach and reading poetry…in a cave. (Yes, you read that correctly).  

I am pleased to announce I’ll be performing for the 100th Anniversary of Timpanogos Cave National Monument Monument’s Arts in the Park Centennial Event with a program titled, “Bardic Bach.” I’ll be playing selected solo Bach movements alternating with recited poetry selections…IN AN ACTUAL CAVE, August 13 in the Big Room at Timpanogos Cave Nat’l Monument. The day will be filled with artists of all sorts, spaced throughout the park.

This might be a one-shot idea for me, and then again might develop into something further. (The Viola-Bard, perhaps?) Regardless, the viola is out of the case and there’s nothing better than Bach for getting back in shape. If nothing else, I’ll also get in a decent hike to reach the performance site.  

Thanks to my former student, Laura Tagawa, and her family for making me aware of this fun opportunity!  Laura, her son Max, and her husband Toru are also on the docket as performers.

Photo is my shot of the Great Heart of Timpanogos, a 4,000-pound stalactite taken on my recent outing to check out the concert venue. One needs a ranger guide to do so. It’s a 1.5 mile hike that gains 1200 feet of elevation from Green Room to Stage.