Thursday, March 15
Journaling and doing reflective writing exercises made our early Thursday morning fly by as we took the bus up to Hyde Park, home to the Robie House and the Oriental Institute.
We began at the Robie House, designed by the exceptional American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. I had heard his name before because of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois, the town where I went to high school, but never before had I taken the time to learn more about his buildings.
As the tour guide led us through Wright’s vision for the house to reflect the surrounding landscape of the Midwest, I felt awestruck by the meticulous attention he would give to the tiniest details. Everything, from using a different color mortar to make the rows of bricks look like flat Midwest plains, to constructing tall-backed dining chairs to keep people from looking around too much during a dinner conversation, had a purpose. This is a place I certainly wouldn’t have thought of going to on my own, but even without any architectural background, I could still admire how he devoted all his creativity to build a uniquely modern, Midwestern home where the Robies could build wonderful family memories.
Our next destination in Hyde Park was the Oriental Institute, which displays artifacts from ancient Mesopotamian cultures. I distinctly remember visiting the Oriental Institute as a kid with my family and blowing past anything that wasn’t taller than ten feet or filled with lots of colors. Naturally, I had missed out on some truly incredible cultural relics.
My personal favorite section was on the Book of the Dead, filled with magic spells said to help one’s soul move into the afterlife. It describes the ba, similar to the soul, staying within the corpse at night to ba rejuvenated so that in the morning it can join Re, the sun god, as he moves through the daytime sky. The ba is depicted as a bird with a red sun disk around its human head, and as someone interested in how different cultures perceive and cope with death, I loved that image of being able to look up and see the souls of your loved ones flying as birds through the sky. It demonstrates that these ancient peoples felt many of the same anxieties that we do today.
Part of studying the humanities means looking for those kinds of universal thoughts and experiences that define what it means to be human, and this museum was filled with examples of how those human themes manifest again and again across both space and time.
We rounded off our day with a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, playing Haydn’s “Symphony No. 89 in F Major” and Mozart’s “Sinfonia concertante in E-flat Major, K. 364” and “Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K. 425 (Linz).” And if those titles convey nothing more to you than a jumble of numbers and notes, then you likely know about as much as I did about classical orchestra music going into the performance. Fortunately, we were able to attend a pre-concert talk, during which the speaker discussed how the compositions were written during transitory periods in both composers’ lives. Haydn was making the transition from employment by wealthy patrons such as Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy of Hungary to freelance work, an uncommon route for composers that was rife with uncertainty at the time. Mozart, meanwhile, composed Symphony No. 36 just a few short months after the death of his infant son, Raimund Leopold.
Knowing this historical context helped us take notice of the transitions in the music that conveyed the broad range of emotions that both composers put into their work. We all agreed that the musicians blended together beautifully to sound like a unified instrument. You could even see the harmony in the synchronized movements of the violin bows, like little waves rippling over and over again. They pulled off a magnificent performance, one sure to do Haydn and Mozart proud.
Just as any good symphony, our trip has crescendoed and reached its final notes. Tomorrow we say goodbye to this beautiful city on our fifth and last day of the FYHF Immersion Trip to Chicago!
– Rachel McCarthy ’21