He made from one blood all nations who live on the earth. –Acts 17:26a (NLV)

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.        —Marcel Proust

Last Saturday night the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra (RSO) treated our community to a wonderful, free outdoor concert, “Symphony Under the Stars,” under the skilled guidance of Maestro David Stewart Wiley. 

In addition to the RSO, the evening also included the RSO Chorus and SWVA Ballet.

Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, “Symphony Under the Stars”

After a year of quarantines, “social distancing,” deprivation, and too much general craziness, it was refreshing to actually go to a concert again. And, by being outside, we attendees had the consolation that at least we were not in an enclosed space.

The concert kicked off shortly after 7:00, as the sun slipped behind the elm trees around the amphitheater at Elmwood Park and the heat from that oppressively hot day began to break. 

After the incessant assaults and insults we, our nation, and our culture have been enduring recently, how refreshing it was for the concert to begin with The National Anthem. Notably, most in the crowd respectfully and instinctively rose to their feet and placed their right hand over their heart. 

The music, as was to be expected, was spectacular. In keeping with an outdoor summer concert vibe, the evening included several all-American tunes such as 76 Trombones, West Side Story Medley, America the Beautiful, etc. For the Armed Forces Salute, Wiley asked individuals who had served in a particular branch to stand when the hymn for that branch was played. For each group, the audience applauded.

Other favorites such as William Tell Overture, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Carmen rounded out the evening. 

One particularly poignant moment came when Wiley introduced Lakeesha Jones to perform a solo, You’ll Never Walk Alone. Wiley tactfully explained his hope that, in these challenging times, the lyrics would encourage and comfort those who have recently experienced losses. Jones, a Roanoke native, graduated from Patrick Henry High School in 2019 and currently studies at Virginia Western Community College. How encouraging it was to see and enjoy such young, local talent!

Since Roanoke is my hometown, I look forward to seeing folks I know at public events, and I saw six such friends that evening in the crowd–three of whom are Taiwanese. Roanoke is such a melting pot! 

(A fourth Taiwanese I saw was a first-chair violinist on the stage, and the fifth was my lovely bride of 29 years–my date for the evening.)

In fact, being there that night caused me to reflect on the “Roanoke corner” of America we all experienced versus the “fake America” so many in the media and politics peddle for profit and self-gain. 

To believe some voices, you might get the opinion that the USA is a hate-filled, racist, oppressive nation somewhat on par with North Korea. However, being at that concert showed us the exact opposite. In addition to our three Taiwanese friends, the audience included a wide variety of ethnic groups and ages. There were elderly folks in wheelchairs, middle aged people, young families, teens, and little kids. One couple brought their five beautiful, well-behaved children, including the youngest the mom was carrying in a sling. 

Sitting right behind us was a black gentleman wearing a t-shirt with a big USA flag emblazoned on it. He seemed willing to express his patriotism for our nation. 

Sadly, many angry voices for whatever reason seek to divide us into this or that “group.” However, seeing Wiley (a white male) introduce and celebrate Jones (a black female) and the two of them together bring such joy to a mixed crowd was a microcosm of what makes America a great place.

I guess they were there somewhere, but I saw no police presence. How wonderful that there was no need for it! The crowd was orderly, respectful, and appreciative.

While many in the media breathlessly report on “mostly peaceful” riots, looting and mayhem across the US, that relaxing evening in Elmwood Park–as darkness fell and the stars came out– served as a reminder of how blessed we are to live in the Roanoke Valley and in the US. 


Roanoke Symphony Orchestra (RSO) website

Scott Dreyer in his classroom.


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