The independence of music

The Rhode Island Philharmonic near dusk at India Point Park last night.

The Rhode Island Philharmonic near dusk at India Point Park last night.

Not long ago, a few soft bars into Ravel’s Bolero, conductor Larry Rachleff of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, presiding at Veterans Memorial Auditorium – in the shadow of the Rhode Island State House designed by Charles Follen McKim – stopped the orchestra, turned around and offered a silent cough-into-sleeve-please lesson to a member of the audience who coughed during an early flute solo. Rachleff  resumed conducting, but many had not heard the cough, and (after reading of the incident in Channing Gray’s review in the Providence Journal) I thought that Rachleff had gone too far.

Billy and Victoria with me at India Point Park.

Billy and Victoria with me at India Point Park.

Last night, during the orchestra’s July 4 pops concert at India Point Park, the audience chattered, private fireworks popped and my son Billy romped on my stomach while I lay on my back in the grass listening through the obstacles to Sibelius’s Finlandia and a host of other pieces, including John Philip Sousa and Tchaikovsky. I did not get up to chide the audience, the private fireworks or even Billy. They all pressed their vain assault on my attention to the music throughout the performance.

It was not optimal listening but it was a quintessential musical experience, in that it broke the back of the obstacles to pleasure. Maybe I was really just in the right frame of mind. The Philharmonic, whether under Rachleff or, as last night, resident conductor Francisco Noya, was as always brilliant. My son and his allies in the audience failed to distract me, as they would certainly have managed to do had it been anything but music – say, a good novel.

In short, you can’t beat music. It surmounts every obstacle. And in this music is like architecture. The distractions of a busy street, for example, cannot sway a lover of buildings from the contemplation of a beautiful marble balustrade or a set of animated brackets upholding an ornate pediment. Maybe this is because music and architecture, compared with other art forms, are more intuitive and less reliant on analysis for enjoyment.

No wonder Goethe made that dazzling observation, “Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music.”

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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