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Honor Your Art- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Honor Your Art- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Honor Your Art


We are soaring at the apogee of summer,

languorous days and heat shimmering vistas,

a fleeting time that feels paradoxically endless.

What will you do with this gift of time and season?

We offer up some ideas with a musical accompaniment.

What I did on my summer vacation


Nancy is taking time to rest, reflect and read extensively this summer. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t love making and teaching art anymore, sometimes one needs to step back and reflect.

As Groucho Marx said, “I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.”

Bruce’s summer, on the other hand, has had more music than ever.

Last week Bruce performed in a concert for the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival, an offshoot of the University of California Santa Cruz.

The concert took place in a very unusual setting, a homemade “chapel” just big enough to house a remarkable hand-built baroque pipe organ in the style of JS Bach, full of shrill mixtures and snarling reeds, not some mamby-pamby mushy late-Romantic organ sound that feels like drowning in acoustical molasses.


Boomeria pipe organ–facing forward into chapel



Boomeria pipe organ: facing back towards chapel entrance


In addition, he accompanied a brass quintet. A brass quintet plus a major pipe organ in a 16 x 32 foot (5 x 10 meter) space is loud! So loud the audience had to sit outside.

This is reminiscent of Mark Twain’s quote,

The climate here is such that that the residents are forced to live elsewhere.

-Mark Twain


“Elsewhere” in this case does not mean a parking lot or road or sidewalk or some other soulless venue full of mechanical sounds of urbanity, but rather on plastic chairs set into the soft duff amongst hundred-foot high redwood trees full of birds, dust motes dancing in the angling shafts of afternoon sunlight, the air warm and fragrant.



Fog In The Redwoods- One To Zero: Fear, Risk & Creativity- Nancy Hillis MD and Bruce Sawhill PhD

In The Redwoods


Bruce and the brass played five pieces together, interspersed with four organ solos by Bach. It was an ambitious program, which generated a fair share of anxiety in the process of rehearsing.

Right afterwards Bruce wound his way down the mountain, Nancy leapt on board and we headed 140 miles north over the Golden Gate to see friends for a sweet weekend in the Russian River country of Sonoma County. Like Boomeria, a slightly crazy magnificent monument to human imagination.


Engineered System: Golden Gate Bridge


Bruce learned a valuable lesson—if you don’t pause and reflect right after a performance, it saves a lot of second-guessing and self-flagellation about missed notes or ragged passages. Just move on, right away. It’s over, you did your best, be happy.




The proprietor of the concert property, Preston Boomer, used to teach physics and chemistry at a local high school for 53 years, opining that “the grandkids aren’t any smarter than the grandparents were.”

But some of those students put together vacuum cleaner hoses, tongue blades, and other paraphernalia to create a powerful pipe organ, even going so far as to hand cast pipes in the medieval style by pouring a molten mixture of lead and tin onto wet muslin to make a thin sheet which could then be formed into an organ pipe.

Also on the property are a hand built castle, some catacombs, and a guillotine.

There used to be water cannons and air raid sirens, but insurance companies and neighbors got the better of those. There’s only so much you can do on two and a half acres, (one hectare) and Mr. Boomer has fully explored the length and width of legal possibility.

As Boomer himself stated, Boomeria is the result of “several decades of benign dementia,” perhaps a general description of Art.


Map of Boomeria


It was remarkable enough to encounter this venue once in my life (I’ve been playing there for the Baroque Festival most Julys for almost 20 years), but this was actually the *second* time around.

When I was just starting grad school, a friend who used to attend UCSC and who was a connoisseur of the eccentric said, “You’ve got to see this place, you won’t believe what is up there.”

So that was my first encounter with “Boomeria” in 1983. It always occupied a warm place in my mind, kept in that cerebral vault where the best memories are guarded.

This summer seems to be a time for returns to the sources of good feelings and memories. My heart leaps every time I ascend the winding mountain road 2,400 vertical feet to Boomeria.


Frost Amphitheatre


As if that weren’t enough music, just the following week, on this last Friday, Nancy and Bruce went to an outdoor concert of the San Francisco Symphony at Stanford University.

Frost Amphitheatre, where the concert was held, used to be a rough-around-the-edges pastoral place for concerts, created in 1937 by digging a big hole and piling up the dirt thus obtained around the perimeter, creating a generous sunken walled space big enough to seat several thousand. In time, trees grew around it and grass grew on the sloped lawn in front of a minimal stage, giving the space a peaceful and sylvan air, a hidden grove in an increasingly busy surroundings.

Many famous popular music acts played there in the 60s and 70s, particularly the Grateful Dead as well as spontaneous appearances by the local resident Joan Baez.

Stanford University, which by now has more money than God, is always looking for places to put a few million dollars. So they spiffed up Frost after a few decades of neglect, adding a spectacular rock-walled covered stage big enough for ballet and full symphony orchestras as well as lighting, walkways, landscaping, and even a tastefully lit access tunnel.



Frost Amphitheater, Stanford University, San Francisco Symphony


Bruce hadn’t been there since the day he graduated with a BS in Physics in June of 1979. Like Boomeria, another return to a nourishing place.

The concert was not the usual “Summer Pops” concert that symphony orchestras program across the country, rather it featured two very meaty pieces, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Elgar’s Enigma Variations.


The symphony lit into those pieces with power and verve, bringing tears to our eyes.

A first-rate symphony orchestra playing in full-spate is like a sailboat under full sail–Human muscle and imagination in tight rapport with the elemental laws of physics, air and water and light in glorious harmony


Sailboats racing in stiff wind


We hadn’t realized how much we missed grand concerts during the endless reign of COVID, and it felt like a triumphant return to a life that seemed like it was fading away, the Before Time. It made us not take these joys for granted, if they disappeared once, they could disappear again.

On our way home, we reflected that this seems to be a time of rapprochement with ones self, a returning home and recognizing it for the first time as TS Eliot wrote about in his Four Quartets.

And by the bright light of today, that seems like a worthwhile summer pursuit, revisiting that which matters and honoring it, remembering what makes your heart sing and exalting it. Wherever your art lives, visit that place.



With gratitude from our studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce


P.S. If you enjoyed this excerpt from our newest book which won the Book Excellence Award: The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation, you’ll love the other stories and artwork by 25 amazing artists who are employing concepts from The Adjacent Possible in their art.

Book Unboxing: Here’s Betty’s video of receiving the book! Lots of fun.

Now, what are you waiting for? Grab your copy and go check out Chapters 4 and more.

Get your copy now: The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook * Stories Of Artistic Transformation




Click HERE to order your book. 







Nancy Hillis & Bruce Sawhill, Authors of The Adjacent Possible books and blog

Nancy Hillis, MD & Bruce Sawhill, PhD, Authors of The Adjacent Possible books and blog



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