8. On the Supernatural

I suppose all intelligent persons who reach an advanced age must have observed many things which our humble brain cannot explain, or more likely Einstein’s famous observation applies, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” It is also the case that over the course of Time one notices the explanations of Church and School but one is just too busy to stop and meditate on unexplainable phenomena. Good things that “happen” to us my mother attributed to the “guiding hand,” but I noticed she had no comparable phrase to attribute to the not-so-good things which happen to us.

Having a concept such as a “guiding hand” allows us to continue in our daily life, simply accepting events which might otherwise be troubling and distracting to worry about. An example which comes to mind, one which I think many people may have experienced, is driving at night, briefly falling asleep then suddenly becoming awake and realizing one is further down the highway than one can remember being. The attention needed for driving prevents the time for any contemplation of this alarming experience and we simply let it pass. An example of my own experience relative to this was an occasion when I was driving at night and suddenly becoming aware that I was approaching the back of a large truck too fast to avoid hitting it. In the blink of an eye I suddenly found myself down the road, in front of the truck, with no memory of how I apparently “leap-frogged” over him.

A similar phenomenon is after thinking unsuccessfully about some problem, one goes to bed and rises the next morning with the solution in place. Perhaps this is the result of the brain continuing to think about the problem by itself long after our eyes are closed. During my conducting days I always found that if I studied for memorization of a score before going to bed I always knew it better the next morning. For me this kind of activity has been especially helpful when composing music. There have been many cases where during the night my “dream assistant” has provided me ideas and even complete melodies which I then used.

In the above examples, even if I do not know exactly what physically the brain is doing, I assume there must be some natural explanation for such brain function. But, for me it is an entirely different phenomenon when one encounters in a dream a previously unknown person who participates with one in some later event. An example of this can be found in the previous essay where I describe a representative of Wagner who provided me with information which led to the solution of a score problem. This category of events in a dream I consider to be Supernatural. Under this category, in addition to the above mentioned Wagner example, I have had nocturnal discussions or events involving Mozart, Berlioz, the former Princess Diana of England and a fictional, though very helpful, professor of music in Paris. As for the term “Supernatural” I should like to present the reader with two cases which I cannot explain.

In December, 1791 Mozart died and the year 1991 found throughout the world countless commemorations of his death. In Los Angeles, European events of this kind generally go unnoticed. In that Fall I, however, decided that someone in Los Angeles should honor the memory of Mozart by recognizing the two hundredth anniversary of his death. So I decided to organize such a special event for my own students. We would meet in the large rehearsal room, watch together the great Amadeus movie, and following which I would read some very touching contemporary descriptions of Mozart by people who knew him in person, as a means of making Mozart seem more like a real person for my students. All of this would be followed by a few moments of silence coinciding with the exact anniversary of his death at five minutes after midnight on December 5, 1791. Then we would have time for conversation together with coffee and donuts.

All this we did, but I was very disappointed that there was only a small group of students who came out for the evening, whereas I anticipated a large number would be interested. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that this was a final exam week, which was responsible for the small number of students who came. In addition, regarding the anticipated period of conversation when the students could share their feelings about the events of the evening, I was further disappointed to find that immediately after the moment of silence all the students departed, it being after midnight, and none stayed for the coffee and the 100 or so donuts I had purchased for the occasion.

So now, in the middle of the night, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself that I had gone to all this trouble for such a small turnout and was consequently left alone to clear and reorganize the rehearsal room for its use the following morning.

My final job was to empty and clean the giant coffee urn which could only be done in an adjacent building in the faculty coffee room, where I would also leave for the faculty 100 donuts! This coffee urn, holding something like 50 cups of coffee, was very heavy and as I was duck-walking it toward the doors of the other building I was thinking where I could set it down in order to open the door and still have the urn close enough for me to hold the door open with one hand and pull it through with the other hand. This was, I hasten to add, before the era of visually operated automatic door functions so common today. Imagine my shock when, just I was preparing to set the big urn down, both doors opened by themselves, with no other person in sight, and closed by themselves after I passed through! I paused in the hall for a moment just after passing through in response to my having just experienced a phenomenon for which there is no rational explanation possible. At that very moment, a cool breeze passed over my head and the thought entered my mind that Mozart had opened the doors! And so there I stood, feeling sorry for myself that so few people attended and wondering if Mozart did.

Before relating the second supernatural event I must preface it with another story which has a relationship with it. One of my hobbies in Los Angeles was to occasionally buy a used sports car, drive it awhile and then try to sell it for more than I paid for. Both facts, my being able to afford a sports car and my concern in reselling it, was because the cars I could afford to buy were relatively old with serious problems. One summer I saw an ad for a 25-year-old MG selling for $400. Among its problems was an inaccessible latch which held the driver’s side door closed; one had to get in and then use a bungee cord to hold the door shut! Also the worn out motor required purchasing oil every time I purchased gas. While the car was great fun to drive, the fun was always accompanied by a fear that at any moment it was going to just die and leave me stranded on some freeway. So after a couple of months, I put an ad in the paper selling it for $500. The day the ad appeared a young man came to my door, no shirt, covered with tattoos and oily slicked back hair — a casting room model for a dangerous gang member, holding in his hand 5 brand new $100 bills. I was more than nervous giving him the car as I feared the car dying the next day and his returning to murder my family!

The following day I was walking back home from the university and could see numerous policemen surrounding my house. When I arrived the policeman in charge asked me whom I sold the car to? I had no idea as at that time one just handed an ownership slip of paper to the buyer, nothing to fill out. “Why,” I asked, “what happened?” The policeman replied, “The car was used this morning as the get-away car in a bank robbery!” The policeman was startled to hear me cry out, “Thank God it is still running!”

The second supernatural event I should like to pass on occurred in the week Princess Diana of England was killed in a car wreck in Paris in 1997. This, because she was so brilliant and so admired the world over, had a great impact on everyone, including even my students in Los Angeles who were otherwise far removed from any interest in the Royal Family. I had a rehearsal at the time all this was made public and I was very much aware of the impact of this on my students, whom were in no mood for a rehearsal. So during a break in the rehearsal, I passed out an arrangement of Bach’s Come Sweet Death composed for solo soprano. I told the students we would read through this composition in honor of Diana and then we would silently leave campus. The final word I had for the students was to remind them that the doctor trying to save Diana’s life had commented that if she had only been wearing a seat belt she would have survived, requesting them to remember to do this in leaving.

I had at that time a rebuilt 280Z sports car [license tag: “Berlioz”] which had one serious problem: the driver’s seat belt did not function. No matter of effort pulling it down would overcome some internal block. My fine personal mechanic had no luck, a Nissan factory mechanic had no explanation. When I left the rehearsal where we were all thinking of Diana, I got into my car, mindful of the fact that my own seatbelt did not work, and for the very first time the seat belt worked! It continued to work as long as I owned the car. Was Diana responsible for fixing that seat belt?