Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Maestro's Music Plays On This Year

(Reprinted from The Times and News-Star, Jan. 1, 2012)

The house lights are dim today, the sheet music put away. In
tribute, the orchestra pit is lonely, except for some empty chairs
and metal music stands.

The maestro has gone away.

This is the first New Year's Day in the past 95 that John Shenaut,
founding Music Director of the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, has
not been alive to enjoy the music. To play or to lead or to compose.

He died early December and was entombed a few days later, a
beautiful day, windy and chilly but sky blue. I think he would have
appreciated the service, the oboe and violin, the heartfelt eulogy,
the scripture and song. I know he would have appreciated the words
of his wife of 40 years who touched his casket and said to friends,
"Thank you so much for being here; you know, he was the love of my

John Shenaut inspired some to play, some to compose, some to
appreciate, many to love. He helped give birth to the Wideman Piano
competition. And again, he founded the symphony, conducted its first
performance on his 32nd birthday, Nov. 9, 1948. He made Mozart out
of thin air, a few reeds and strings and believers in the music.

Much of the richness in the cultural life of the area today can be
traced to seeds first sewn by John Shenaut 65 years ago.

He was the maestro.

But to me, he was the kindly and classy older gentleman my son grew
up next door to, the husband of the wife who loved my boy from the
time he was a toddler through the time she watched us loading up to
take his stuff off to college four years ago.

Mr. John was the man who owned the yard I mowed and the azaleas my
cat napped in. He was the man who walked around the block in his
sweater and beret, with his cane, slow and steady and smiling. Mr.
John was the musician who composed for us without his knowing it
when we'd sit on the front porch and hear the piano in his front
room, right by the window, and then his violin.

Our house was football in the front yard and the Grand Old Opry.
His was a baby grand in the den and Carnegie Hall. The Christmas
Mrs. Frances let me hang lights on their house, I felt as if I were
decorating the Met.

I wonder what it must have been like in the 1950s when north
Louisiana was country as fatback and the Hayride was rocking and Mr.
John and others were steadily fanning a fire for orchestral
concerts, opera and ballet, challenging the music inside hundreds of
gifted hands, bringing the love of music to thousands of listening
ears. It took talent but also dedication and a businessman's savvy
to make it work. No question we had the right man on point: in 33
years with the symphony, he never missed a rehearsal or performance.

He taught even when he didn't try. Once during a visit in his den, a
piece of classical music played in the background and suddenly he
said, "Wait!," and he held up his hand. He wanted to hear this one
part. "Listen. Isn't it beautiful?" And his eyes danced and the part
passed and he smiled.

Know when to be still. Don't miss the best parts, said our friend
and neighbor who conducts us still, who left us notes much sweeter,
and the world a bit more in tune.