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Musings on Baroque Music and the Origin of the Species

My wife and I went down to San Diego with Steve and Nona Baer on a recent weekend for a taste of high culture and a visit to the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

We were with a group from the Committee of Professional Women, whose purpose is to support the Philharmonic.

We caught two concerts of SummerFest La Jolla ’91--the Andre Previn jazz trio in San Diego and the Chamber Ensemble in La Jolla.

The Previn trio played a sophisticated, convoluted, improvisational kind of jazz, Previn himself at the piano. The Chamber Ensemble, a group of extremely proficient young people, played a concert of baroque music--what our luncheon speaker had called “windshield wiper music.” That, he said, did not keep it from being bright, energetic, beautiful and happy music, which indeed it was.

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I would have enjoyed it as simply another musical weekend if we hadn’t visited the Wild Animal Park first. That gave me an immediate perspective on our species and what we have done with our heritage.

The park is a vast area about 30 miles north of San Diego. Its designers and keepers have made it as close to the African veld as the terrain permits. It is home to thousands of wild animals, most of which are endangered species.

A monorail train circles the park from above, looking down on dozens of species at home in vast enclosures complete with such amenities as mudholes and shade trees. A guide describes the fauna.

It is a revelation to see so many species, each ingeniously designed to survive in its habitat. The camel, for example, is able to drink 40 quarts of water at one filling. Certain goats have cushioned hoofs that allow them to climb on rocks. The giraffe has a long neck that enables him to reach the most tender leaves of trees.

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The Arabian oryx symbolizes the park’s species rescue program. Almost extinct a few years ago, this handsome beast (when seen in silhouette it resembles the fabled unicorn) has been bred so successfully at the park (and also at the Los Angeles Zoo) that a significant number have been returned to their native Jordan, where they thrive.

We saw several species of rhinoceros, most of which are clinging precariously to their niche on Earth. One species is being exterminated by poachers who grind their prey’s horns into an allegedly aphrodisiac powder. It seemed ironic to me that one species should be wiped out to heighten the libido of another that is already too procreative.

A “creation scientist” and an evolutionist would find themselves hard pressed to justify either of their theories in the face of such variety and adaptability in species. I can’t believe, for example, that the same creator could have produced the flamingo and the wart hog. There must be some other explanation.

In the Wild Woods section they have set out life-size, animated replicas of various species of dinosaur--an exhibit that did nothing to allay my uncertainties. Why, I wondered, did they put extinct creatures in a live wild animal park?

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The purpose, I suppose, was to dramatize the facts that species can and do vanish from the Earth and that it could happen to us.

I liked the dinosaurs. Most children like dinosaurs. That must be because they are so fabulous. They are make-believe, like teddy bears, and thus harmless.

But I wondered, assuming the Creationists to be right, why God ever made them. What did he have in mind when he designed Tyrannosaurus rex, the tyrant lizard, a 6-ton carnivore that was truly king of his world?

Was he just trying to amuse himself when he created triceratops, a three-horned monster that was a vegetarian but defended his young ferociously against even the most bloodthirsty predators? When they fought, the Earth must have shaken.

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I was especially bemused by a creature named horrible bat. It was about the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger, standing erect, with powerful forearms ending in claws and a hideous toothy countenance.

The bat, it turned out, was imaginary. Its function, evidently, was to suggest that creation of species is not yet finished. A sign reassured us that the bat was “just a speculation” of what kind of creature might exist on some remote island 50 million years from now.

Once God had hit upon man, why would he want to create such an unprepossessing beast as horrible bat? Does it delight him to scare us? Does he want to challenge our primacy?

I was thinking about man’s place in the scheme of things as we listened to the baroque compositions of C. P. E Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann and J. S. Bach. Even if it did sound like a windshield wiper, that music seemed to me to reveal the human mind at its most exquisitely inventive.

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Surely we aren’t going to surrender our paradise to horrible bat.


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