By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. You are alive for one of nature’s most important events: the summer solstice. It is a matter of myth, fable, science and awe…. and you must, absolutely must, be prepared to enjoy this once-a-year event. To assist you, I have chosen music by one of my favorite geniuses, Stephen Sondheim (born 1930). You can find it in any search engine.
This tune, not as well known as it should be, is perfect for today. It’s called “Night Waltz” and appears in “A Little Night Music,” (1973). It was written for you for this day! Don’t fight this music… for it is insidious and will have its way with you…. and you will be glad of it.
“Today the very heavens moved… and puny man did sport as did, so equally resolved’ on raucous mayhem, the very gods themselves.”
June 20-21 is a day that reminds us we are but a part, and not perhaps the most important part as we suppose, of the Cosmos… and that while we are getting on with our little concerns, so all engrossing, the universe is, quite simply, taking us for a ride, a ride majestical and grand.
Today occurs one of earth’s two annual solstices, days when the rays of the sun directly strike one of the two tropical latitude lines. June 21 marks the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere and simultaneously heralds the beginning of winter in the southern hemisphere.
Today television meteorologists, well schooled and anxious for this moment, share sage observations, in 10 seconds or so. Thus they transform this profound event into mere factoids giving us the illusion that we know what is happening today, far above us, to our species and our ever-moving, never stable habitat. At such a moment, mankind, born a searcher, strives to understand the inexplicable and so myths and fables are born, from every land on Earth.
This is the day when we finally emerge free from the trammels of winter and when the promise of springtime becomes the reality of summer; at this moment we give thanks by indulging ourselves,without worry about tomorrow or regret. This day is dedicated to indiscretions, past, present, and future.
“Perpetual twilight is really a most unsettling thing”.
In 1955 Ingmar Bergman, a man who lived to expose the unending foibles of humanity, released his film “Smiles of a Summer Night.” Stephen Sondheim, master of the heart’s often unwise whimsies and obsessions, later transformed the great director’s observations into waltz time, so lush, so evocative, so enchanting that you never knew the music was leading you to the maddest thing of all… love!
The waltz, more provocative than the French Revolution.
Historians, who have their idee’s fixes, about what is important and what we really should know, often miss the forest for the trees. I am about to outrage the sterner members of the Academy by suggesting this: the waltz was more important than the storming of the Bastille.
You see, the history of mankind, both of its male and female varieties, is a tale of how to get close together, very close together, oblivious to every other soul in the world without outraging the proprieties.
A wild new dance emerged from Vienna about 1830. It was the waltz, and it took the stately measures of polonaise and minuet and, by putting a man into enticingly close contact with a woman, outraged every propriety. But even queens didn’t care — if they were young enough — and bold. Queen Victoria (just 18 at her accession in 1837) lived to waltz…
… and, with nimble feet… she knew exactly what the mad measures of a waltz could give her. She like the rest of dance-maddened Europe wanted more. She knew that waltz time was the food of love… and commanded “Play on!”, while aging dowagers clucked and whispered of the debaucheries in their midst. The more honest, remembering their own indiscretions, knew better…and longed for the chance to be indiscrete again and whirl by in satin slippers and flying ribbons.
Such things do happen on Midsummer’s Night… and why we now, just hours before the event, grow impatient for its arrival. We know its possibilities… and we are keen to enjoy them, with not a moment lost.
The great event begins to take shape…
Whilst we may have difficulty taking in the unceasing movement of the planet and the unearthly music of the spheres which accompanies it, we have no difficulty at all in marking this event with a party.
Midsummer’s night provides the perfect party time, for the world, at least its northern hemisphere, is seen softly, an evocation. It’s the abundant twilight, unceasing in northern climes. This light, soft, caressing, immensely flattering to even the oldest, is crucial to what comes…. even the oldest look young in such light… and are reborn in it.
What could such a party, held but once a year, be without music? It fell to the lot of young Felix Mendelssohn to ensure we never found out. Just 17 in 1826 when he finished the Overture to Opus 21, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, homage to his Master, Shakespeare. In it he challenged Mozart for the crown of creating the “greatest marvel of early maturity that the world has ever seen in music.” (George Grove). It contains the celebrated wedding march that accompanies so many down the aisle…. the unceasing, inevitable result so surprising to men everywhere, who now truly know the power of music. (You can easily find Mendelssohn’s youthful masterpiece in any search engine.) It’s pulsating with youth! It’s grandiloquent! It’s exuberant! It’s the way a wedding should be, a thing of radiant optimism, unafraid of whatever may come, joyful in each other.
And then the guests…
Somewhere between 1590 and 1596, Shakespeare created in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” the guest list for a memorable evening and even stipulated the games to make us roar.
There was the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta; four young Athenian lovers and a group of amateur actors (one a perfect part for you). There was a forest of fairies, Oberon their king and Titania, his playful queen. For generations, they, their tricks and shenanigans have made us laugh and they will make us laugh again tonight.
Then, the world still in twilight, the special people, the lovers for whom this night was cast, will find solace in each other. American poet Louise Gluck (born 1943) remembers how:
“On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry, the boys making up games requiring them to tear off the girls’ clothes and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last summer and they wanted to exhibit them, the brave ones leaping off the high rocks — bodies crowding the water….
Then the heat broke, the night was clear, And you thought of the boy or girl you’d be meeting later, And you thought of walking into the words and lying down, practicing all those things you were learning in the water…”
It’s all just hours away…. the indiscretion you’ll savor for life and grateful.
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About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at http://homeprofitcoach.com/listbuilding