Today during lunch I left the office and went to the Dame Myra Hess concert at the Chicago Cultural Center.
Whenever I’m able I listen to Dame Myra concerts on WFMT, Chicago’s Classical Music station. Since 1977, they’ve occurred each week for an hour on Wednesdays starting at 12:15. They’re named in honor of said Dame, who was much more than David Brubeck’s mother’s piano teacher (though God love her for that). Myra was also a renowned pianist, a British citizen who organized over 1500 lunchtime concerts at the Royal Gallery during WWII, when all the concert halls in London were blacked out to ward off (to the best of anyone’s ability) German bombings. Dame Myra herself played a fair portion of these concerts.
Twenty-some years ago, I attended my first Dame Myra concerts. I was working as a fashion copywriter at the time, and now I’m working as a freelance writer again, in the very same chamber of the heart of the city, near the old Marshall Field’s building. Though two decades have passed, I still love slipping away from my cube and charging down the busy streets, then through the Cultural Center’s café and galleries and up the grand stairs to Preston Bradley Hall, where the concerts take place. Like the old Marshall Field’s building, this hall is known for its Tiffany glass ceiling—a gorgeous dome and walls tiled in shades of green and gold, with quotes and authors’ names embedded there.
Everything is hushed during the Dame Myra Hess concerts—except for the music, of course. Today two pianists were playing duets on a single piano—Bach, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev. The pianists played beautifully. They were also married, which added an element of romantic tension to the whole affair.
Though perhaps I’m projecting.
For part of the concert I also wrote a letter to my daughter as I listened. My daughter is away at camp. I miss her. I’m happy for her. She is riding horses, water-skiing, singing crazy songs, laughing a lot, and evolving at a pace that will take my breath away when I see her again, I’m sure. I don’t know that Dame Myra concerts would be her cup of tea—not at this point in her life, if ever—though she did love chasing the pigeons in Trafalgar Square when she was two years old, and Trafalgar Square is just outside the National Gallery, so perhaps Dame Myra herself chased pigeons there, many decades before. So they have that in common. Scrappy, city birds.
What was I writing? Only this. In that crowded hall, we were all, so diverse in our identities, taking refuge from whatever was bombarding us on this day—or so it seemed to me. Or we were scrappy, city birds smoothing our feathers.
Thank you, Dame Myra.
You may read more about the concerts here: