Sunday, October 18, 2009
There and Back, Part 8: Ruach Elohim
While in my master's degree program, I had the great good fortune to take a seminar in Twentieth-Century Analysis (um, that's post-tonal music, not post-Freudian psychology) with the late Ronald Roseman. Roseman, at one time the acting principal oboe with the New York Philharmonic -- if you want to hear some amazing playing, browse over to the link on his name -- was not only a brilliant musician and a dynamic teacher, but also a tremendously kind and humane man who was loved and admired by his students. He used to give me a lift to my subway line after our class, which finished in the early evening. I had noticed that he wore a tiny lapel pin in the shape of a dove, and one evening as we drove, I asked him, "Professor, are you a Catholic?" A funny thing for a lapsed cradle Catholic to be asking a Jew from Brooklyn, but everything is possible, and, indeed, as he told me, he was.
Professor Roseman explained that in the sixties he'd been searching. He'd gone to the usual sources -- mystical Judaism, Buddhism, eastern gurus -- but none of it seemed like the truth to him. Then one day he went with a friend to the first Mass of a newly-ordained Catholic priest. The priest blessed Roseman and his friend after Mass, and, he told me, he could feel the Holy Spirit descending into and through him, and it was as if he were on fire. He began studying the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, and his catechist was a young Jesuit with whom Professor Roseman would repair to a tavern after class to argue and drink. One night he asked the priest, "How can you expect me to believe all of this -- the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth?" The priest replied, "Don't worry; you will."
"And," Professor Roseman concluded. "I do."
As fortunate as I was to study musical analysis with such a great musician and scholar, I know now that I was even more fortunate to encounter Professor Roseman as a way-shower on my long road back to the truth.
The fact that Ronald Roseman was a brilliant oboist seems fitting to me. The old joke is that the oboe is an ill wind that no one blows good, which, as you can hear, is disproved by Roseman's virtuosity, as well as by his magnificent phrasing and tender lyricism on the instrument. Saint Paul calls the evil one "the prince of the power of the air," and yet, we know that in the beginning, the breath or wind of God -- in Hebrew, the Ruach Elohim -- moved upon the face of the waters. Ronald Roseman's musicianship was a baptism of sorts, a harnessing of the air in the service of beauty, which, Plato tells us, is truth.