Thursday, June 17, 2010

Theodore Thomas in Stone

Geof Huth sent me this poem recently, on paper. Pretty close to the occasion of my birthday, which was last week. He's writing a year's worth of poems beginning on the First of June: 365 of them for 365 people, though I don't know if that's 365 different people. I would be hard-pressed to come up with that many individuals to write to, much less to write poems to, unless I started writing to strangers. But then again, I'm not a poet. Geof is, and I'm glad I've known such a talented and interesting one for nigh on 30 years now.

Sometimes, things are carved in stone. On the east side of Michigan Avenue across from the Chicago Hilton & Towers there's an allegorical statue set in lush landscaping. The Bare-Breasted Spirit of Music, I think it might be called, by sculptor Albin Polasek. Nearby is a wall that says: "Scarcely any man in any land has done so much for the musical education of the people as did Theodore Thomas. In this country of the nobility of his ideals, with the magnitude of this achievement, will assure him everlasting glory. 1835-1905."

Well, maybe. Theodore Thomas's face, in relief, is also part of the wall carving. I was the only one at that moment last week who wandered over to his monument to read those carved-in-stone words, but I bet if I'd buttonholed pedestrians along Michigan Avenue one after another asking them who he was, I would have been arrested as a public nuisance before I found anyone who did. I didn't myself, since my own music education was pretty much catch-as-catch-can. So I had to look him up.

Yet the monument promised Thomas everlasting glory, not fame. Perhaps as the first conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (and musical director of the World's Columbian Exposition for a time), glory in some measure is still his. He's certainly got a nice monument, though the words and the statue aren't the best parts. In June, the nearby landscape is.

Above: Looking northeast from near the Theodore Thomas memorial. Urbs in Horto is no empty slogan for Mayor Daley.

Above: Looking north from this little part of Grant Park. The Aon Center, a.k.a. the Amoco Building (and long ago, the Standard Oil Building), dominates the background.

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