The Highest Form of Magic

My young son Nathan and I recently started reading the Harry Potter series. I’m only halfway through the second book, a total Muggle, way behind Nathan, but already I’m hooked. I didn’t want to be, I’ll confess. I’m averse to being trendy, almost on principle, and Harry Potter is all the rage. But I understand why, now. How can anybody resist a good story, especially when the words leap straight from the page onto your tongue? I mean, you see the word “Hogwarts” and you just have to say it, and as soon as you say it, that part of you that only pretends to be grown-up wants to sign up for a few witching classes. And once you’ve said “Quidditch”, how can you not want to play a game or two, even though you know it’s pretty much impossible for us earthbound Muggles?

Michael Gambon playing “Dumbledore.”

And then there’s headmaster Albus Dumbledore. With such a fabulous name, the old fellow probably had me from the start. But he had me for sure when he announced to the entire student body of Hogwarts, after they had just bellowed out the school song at the first assembly of the year, every little wizard and witch to his or her own tune and tempo: “Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!” The old fellow was actually wiping tears from his eyes, and I, a Muggle musician, was wiping my eyes as well. (Well, almost.)

Music. The highest form of magic. Beyond all Potions and Hexes and Charms, beyond all Divinations and Transfigurations and Teleportations. It doesn’t hurt, I suppose, when the music’s being conducted by a silver-haired wizard whose baton–er, wand–shoots out long golden ribbons into the air that twist themselves into words to be sung (and, I also imagine, notes to be played). Each to her own tempo, of course.

Daniel Barenboim.

I know another wizard with tremendous faith in the magic of music. He’s known among Muggles as Daniel Barenboim. He says he’s no wizard, but don’t believe him. Just listen to him. Just watch him. As a pianist he can summon a world out of his fingertips just as surely as Dumbledore can conjure Gubraithian fire. As a conductor he can draw forth the heart and soul of an orchestra, just as surely as Dumbledore can pull out the innermost thoughts and feelings of sorcerers, dragons and ghosts.

Like most wizards, Barenboim doesn’t pay much attention to boundaries that ordinary Muggles won’t step across. Consider, for example, the boundary between Israelis and Palestinians. Barenboim crosses that ugly border so often and with such disdain for what it represents that he enrages some Muggles, while inspiring others.

Barenboim’s efforts to ease the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians are his marvelous obsession; an obsession that has taken many forms. One of the most visible has been the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which Barenboim formed in 1999 with Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. Dubbed “an orchestra against ignorance” by the New York Times, it’s composed of highly talented musicians, aged 14-25, from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, Israel and also Spain, a “neutral” country now serving as the Orchestra’s home base. Members gather in Seville each summer to study with some of the world’s finest musicians, then they perform on tour. So far the Orchestra has appeared in Europe and in North and South America. It has given one concert on the West Bank; otherwise, public engagements in Israel and in Arab countries have been impossible to arrange.
At the concert on the West Bank, held in Ramallah in January, 2008, Baranboim interrupted the program to address the house. “You, of all audiences in the world–I don’t have to explain how much courage it takes for each and every one of [these young people] to come and play with the other.” The wizard went on to say, “This orchestra is not going to bring peace. You know that. What it can bring is understanding. The patience, the courage and the curiosity to listen to the narrative of the Other.”

“It is our duty, all of us,” Barenboim said, his hair as silver as Dumbledore’s, “to find a way to live together. Because either we all kill each other, or we learn to share what there is to share.”

I invite you to watch the wizard Barenboim conduct these young Muggles in an excerpt from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. They have crossed so many boundaries, including those of ingnorance, intolerance and hatred, to attend this wizard’s Hogwarts. Watch them watch his wand–er, baton. Watch their energy. Watch their souls pouring out. Watch arms bowing, hands drumming, fingers flying, heads bobbing, lips pursing and puffing. They aren’t like most grown-up Muggle musicians–not like me–but like him. The wizard. The wizard they trust to keep them safe. The wizard they trust to teach them to listen. The wizard they trust to help them make great music. The wizard they trust to help them transfigure the world.
And that, my dear friend Dumbledore, is the highest form of magic. Music is mighty good magic, I’ll give you that. But the highest form of magic is trust. And because of trust, we Muggles can sometimes become something more than mere Muggles.

Note: If for some reason you can’t see the viewer above, click here to watch the video.

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