A Little Horse Music

I watched the Kentucky Derby on television yesterday, a rarity for me. Not just the Kentucky Derby; almost any such event. But yesterday, I just happened to turn on the television about the time the horses were parading in preparation for moving toward the starting gates. So I watched. After the end of the race, I was stunned (as were many millions of others), when Maximum Security was disqualified, giving the Derby win to a 65-1 long shot, Country House.

I’m not a fan of horse racing and I know almost nothing about the Derby. But, in the aftermath of the race, I felt sympathy for Maximum Security’s owners and trainer and jockey. To have the win snatched from them, the way it was, seemed an awful, painful experience. On the other hand, I was delighted for the folks connected with Country House. Mixed feelings. Very, very mixed feelings. And I wonder whether the horses have any sense of pride or victory or heartache? Anthropomorphizing non-human critters probably is silly, but I do it anyway.

Horse racing’s reputation is not pure and clean. Many so-called exposés have been published, claiming horses are exposed to almost unspeakable abuses in the quest for victories. Some of the exposés suggest trainers and others force the horses under their care to run even when the animals’ joints and bones cause them excruciating pain. Often, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has a hand in documenting the abuses. Though I don’t doubt that abuses occur, I do not hold PETA in particularly high regard. I think the organization sometimes plays fast and loose with the truth in its efforts to reveal abuse, even in circumstances in which no abuse exists. I don’t know whether abuses are widespread in horse racing, but evidence suggests abuse does, indeed, occur. I find it odd that people who have invested thousands—in some cases many hundreds of thousands—of dollars in a horse would risk that money by putting the animal at risk. While the financial windfall of a derby win might be significant, so too is the risk of a commercial meltdown if a horse is incapacitated or killed.

I feel a little guilty for allowing myself to get caught up in the excitement of derby day at Churchill Downs. But watching people celebrate the event, giddy with excitement and dressed in their race-day finery,  got my heart pumping. I felt the excitement and even thought, “I might enjoy going to the Kentucky Derby one day.” Yeah. Probably not. If even a fraction of the abuse allegations are true, I would not want to be a part of it. I think of coaches encouraging their players to do “whatever it takes” to win. Athletes injecting drugs. Trainers injecting drugs into horses’ joints so they can run. Nah. Not for me. I feel more than a little guilty.


Earlier in the afternoon, before I watched the Kentucky Derby, we attended a symphony concert at Woodlands Auditorium in the Village. Two groups of young musicians affiliated with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra each gave an outstanding performance. We watched and listened to the Arkansas Symphony Academy Orchestra and the Arkansas Symphony Youth Orchestra play several pieces. What amazing talent! Hearing the music performed by these young people was a mood booster. For the record, here’s what we heard (according to the program…I assume the program didn’t lie to me):

Academy Orchestra

  • The Moldau (Bedrich Smetana/Meyer)
  • Palladio [Allegretto] (Karl Jenkins)
  • Introduction and March from Symphony No 6, Op. 74 [Pathétique] (Tchaikovsky/Leidig)
  • Danzón No. 2 (Arturo Márquez)

Youth Orchestra

  • Overture to Nabucco (Verdi)
  • Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34 [I. Alborada II. Varizioni III. Alborada IV. Scena e canto gitano V. Fandango asturiano] (Rimsky-Korsakov)

As we were driving home, I suggested to my wife that the sheet music for each instrument must look very different and that the conductor must have a completely different set of sheet music that includes all the instruments in some form or fashion. She didn’t know what the appearance of the different pieces of sheet music might look like. At this stage of life, I have no interest in trying to learn to play a musical instrument, but I am very curious about what the musical “instructions” must look like. Does the sheet music for the tuba player look very different from the music for the violinist? Are the musical instructions for the French horn players radically different from the instructions for the bassist?  I would welcome a very, very short course on how musical instructions are given to players of various instruments.

I’ve often wondered, too, about the conductor’s movements and his or her baton. It seems to me that most musicians are not watching the conductor (but maybe I’m wrong). Is the conductor’s performance on stage just an act? Is the conductor’s real work done during rehearsals, leaving her to be like a mime during the actual performance? I suspect that I would be attacked with a baton if a conductor were to read those words.


Animus. Anima. I enjoy stumbling across the meaning of words I thought I knew well, only to learn I knew only part of the story.  I’ve always believe animus meant a strong dislike or hatred. To the best of my recollection, I’ve never known the meaning of anima.

According to the dictionary, another meaning of animus is the masculine principle (according to C.G. Jung); anima is the feminine principle. Both words have other definitions, as well. Animus also means purpose, animating spirit. Anima also means soul. It also means, in Jungian psychology, the inner personality that is turned toward the unconscious of the individual, contrasted with persona, which is the public mask or façade a person presents to satisfy the demands of the environmental context. I can imagine writing a psychological vignette in which two characters, Animus and Anima, engage in a heated debate about topics that resonate more deeply with men than with women and vice versa.


I binge-watched the first season, on Netflix, of Dead to Me. While it may not be great art, the series is well-written and, to me, enthralling. But now I can’t watch any more until season two comes out. If it ever does. I rather loathe that about Netflix. I’m still waiting for season four of Better Call Saul. I’m better suited to series than to films because my attention span is shrinking with age. I can sit for half an hour or an hour to watch an episode of a series, but it’s harder to sit for two hours or more to watch a film. Yet I can sit for several hours watching multiple episodes of a series. So I am wrong about why I am better suited to series than to films. Now, I wonder why I’m able to attach myself to series more readily than I am to films? Maybe it’s not my attention span, after all. Maybe it’s a deeper psychological flaw, something buried within my brain, an ugly attribute that I dare not explore, lest I uncover a secret I don’t want to know. But if there’s a secret buried there, I want to know it. Hmm. I’m of two minds on the matter. It’s not worth more effort, though, not this morning.


This morning, I will present the 2019-2024 Long Range Plan for our church, asking for a vote to accept it. I’ve already discussed it during two congregational conversations, but this morning will have a larger audience (I expect). Rather than go through the seven-page plan item by item, I intend to give a very brief overview of the process through which it was developed (based on congregants’ input) and to touch on the core elements of the plan. I’ll then ask for a vote. Easy-peasy, I hope. We shall see.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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