Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Meetings – A Remembrance of Dawn Foster-Dodson

I wrote the poem you will read below for Dawn in 2002 and revised it in 2004; who knows, perhaps it is not truly finished. This poem is actually about Dawn and her relationships with her cello and with one piece of music, Max Bruch’s Op. 47, Kol Nidre. But really, it is about the will and freedom of the spirit to express beauty.

I had the honor and joy to hear Dawn play Bruch’s Kol Nidre each year on Erev Kol Nidre from 1997 to 2015 at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, most of those years in collaboration with organist Michael Secour.

Over those years, Dawn’s relationship with this piece and with her cello, as well as her ensemble with Michael, deepened and expanded. I was amazed to experience her cello’s voice growing in depth and expression, Dawn’s touch of the bow on the strings becoming so second nature into meditation – the experience of hearing her became more and more translucent, if that at all makes sense. The sadness of the melody really was an uplifted prayer, less sad than a balm of love, poured out for all in the sanctuary, and beyond the beautiful stained glass windows of the synagogue, released into the world.

In the early years, Dawn used sheet music. Over the years, I could see that piece of sheet music was well-loved; it became dog-eared and worn on the edges from use. One year, she came to services without the music. Of course, she didn’t need it anymore. She hadn’t needed it for years and years. The music stand and the music copy had long become superfluous – she always closed her eyes and just played. She had transcended that barrier.

Every year, Dawn and Michael would play that piece for an assembled congregation of at least a thousand or more, over the course of two evening services. And every year, she drew the congregation away from their cares, concerns, fidgeting, drew them into their prayers with her music. You could hear a pin drop, it was so quiet, as if the congregation was holding an uncharacteristic but necessary border of silence around Dawn and her cello, Michael and the organ, to protect the precious fragility of the beauty being recreated for them.

And every year, at the last note, a collective sigh of thanksgiving for that translucent, shimmering beauty sent all those prayers aloft to Adonai. Every year. When her illness kept her from us last year, another kind of sigh was heard. And this year, a different one yet shall be heard.

Dawn, Dear One, with tears, my soul sings the shimmering, translucence of your transcendence, as a prayer of thanksgiving for the beauty of your life among us.


Paper worn,
sheets so old
there's no rustle left in them,
more like felt under her fingers,
or softer yet,
like the worn cheek
of a beloved old friend.

Settling the pages,
making them comfortable,
she arranged herself,
just close enough
to see the signs and symbols,
and on them meditate.

Cradling the instrument
within her warm embrace,
she took a long, deep breath,
filling her being with its sweetness.

Fixing her gaze
on those worn pages—
old friends, revisited often;
“the rules of engagement,”
she had once heard;
an apt description,
the thought occurred
—she drew the bow,
forward over the strings.

Then she leaned back,
closed her eyes,
and let the bow find the strings,
the way that they would do,
just now.

Inner ear to mind,
mind to thought,
idea to quill,
quill to manuscript,
symbols dot paper,
shapes greet the eye,
horsehair strokes steel,
steel vibrates wood,
wood sings,
space hums,
body rejoices,
soul soars.

The sum
of all these meetings
is God’s voice,
heard as music.

© 2017 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen