“Musician, mentor, friend.” That was the headline of a story in the Nov. 14 edition of the Rochester, NY Democrat & Chronicle. The story continued: “Noted as a scholar and a gentleman . . . the late Alfred Mann is credited with bringing attention to early music. As brilliant as he was in his field, Mann also was gifted in the art of kindness.”
The Alfred Mann Music Festival this weekend was a wonderful experience. As exquisite as the musical performances were (Handel’s Messiah, performed from my dad’s edition, and Bach’s B Minor Mass, his signature piece and one which I’ve played under his direction many times), the really remarkable experience for my brother Tim and me (both there with our fiancées, both of whom knew my dad) was being with so many of my parents’ friends and colleagues and hearing all they had to say about them both.
One of these, Michael Dodds, a young teaching assistant who had grown quite close to my dad and lunched with him weekly for an eight-year stretch, said this in the festival program notes:
I find it remarkable that in spite of the tremendous adversity Alfred faced during his formative years and early adulthood, during one of the starkest manifestations of evil in human history, I never heard him express bitterness or regret. For every path denied, new opportunities, discoveries, and friendships resulted, and he never lost his wonderment and gratitude for these things.
At the special dinner held for festival particpants, Michael asked me about that. Had I ever heard a bitter word from him about the havoc that Naziism wreaked on his homeland and hi life?
And you know, I had to answer, “No—never.”
My dad told me once that when he was a teenager, a Nazi military parade went through his town. He needed to get across the street, thought he saw a quick opening and tried to dart through the column of soldiers. Nobody stopped: they trampled him, destroyed his bike, and kept right on marching. (Eveready Bunny meets Hieronymus Bosch.) Yet he described this scene without a trace of rancor or vitriol, but with a simple sense of marvel at how awful human beings could become. And having thus marveled, he then set the entire issue aside to focus on what mattered to him, which was how magnificent human beings could become and what beauty they can create.
You become what you focus on. Surrounded by monsters, he never focused on monstrosity, but kept his gaze always on Bach, family and friends. He gave thanks, not regrets.
And that, as far as I can tell, is how you cultivate “the art of kindness.”