As I was marching through the 3rd floor of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery to the 20th-Century Americans to see the Amy Sherald painting of Michele Obama, a lovely young lady, wearing an embroidered kimono-like costume, slowly approached me with the question, "May I give you the gift of song?". Usually, I don't like stopping at people offering me products or asking me to participate in something, but this time everything seemed different – I was in a gallery, I heard the words gift and song and in my mind they sounded so beautiful and romantic that without much thinking, not knowing what to expect, I replied "Yes! I would love to have the gift of song."
Next, the pretty lady, obviously a singer, invited me with a slow but sure gesture to follow her to the Great Hall of the gallery and sit on the chair positioned in the middle of one side of the space. She moved about 7 feet away from me, turned around to face me, looked straight into my eyes, took a deep breath and following the short piano introduction, began to sing. Her wonderful soprano voice like a sea wave approaching a sandy shore filled the entire hall. She was singing in German, which I don't understand, but it didn't matter to me because the lyrical, slow-moving melody, familiar to me, had quickly reached my sitting body and wrapped it in a warm, long, caring hug.
I have always had this 'strange' relationship with music, when very often classical pieces and few songs, with their melodic, harmonic modulations, play with my body by sending tingles down my spine, bringing a lump to my throat and making my eyes brim with tears. I can't explain this game. I know, it doesn't have anything to do with personal memories and association with events. It is uncontrollable and at times can be very uncomfortable. It just happens and it was going to happen again, I was sure.
However, this time I didn't let it go to that extent. In other words, I somehow managed not to cry despite the sensations. I was fully present and completely aware of my emotions and my surrounding. I didn't think, so I didn't judge, but I FELT. In a matter of the song's first line, the melody, the light, the singer, the energy of the gallery, the air in the hall, the breathing of others, every fibre of my being merged into an unbounded eternity. Every single thing became one with the totality of the experience. I was seeing only the singer but was sensing the whole universe. There was no space or time anymore. I was there, but I was also in another dimension. One that I believe is called ONENESS – known within the heart and felt in the soul. It was special. It was moving. And intimate. And unforgettable. And powerful. And blissful... And so many other wonderful and unexplainable things, all at once.
It was the gift of a song.
It was the gift of Art.
It was Washington in the S P R I N G.

I later learned that in honour of its 50th Anniversary, the National Portrait Gallery during April (from April 5 to 29) is presenting "IDENTITY" series, SONIC BLOSSOM – a critically acclaimed participatory performance artwork by New York- and Paris-based artist Lee Mingwei, in which the audience becomes part of and engages in the creative process. It is about triggering and representing relationships, connections, trust, and willingness to share an experience with strangers at a specific place, a specific time. When Lee was a child, his mother would play lieder by Franz Schubert at a low volume teaching him how to be still and quiet to be able to hear the music. Later, when he took care of her while she was recovering from heart surgery, he played Schubert's lieder for her and they both found great beauty and comfort in his music. This is the first time Lee's work is presented in Washington, DC during the Cherry Blossom season (and without any planning, just with the power of life's everyday magic, I happened to be there).
I am extremely grateful to singer Molly Pinson Simoneau for choosing me on the opening day of the performance and giving me the most beautiful in my opinion Schubert's lied as a precious, unforgettable gift.
You can read more about Sonic Blossom here and here