Discord is in ample supply elsewhere on the planet, but out here on the banks of the Wabash, the whispered word is serenity. Even the birds sing in three-part harmony. The river flows, the autumn descends, the leaves drift soundlessly, and the only noise is the whack of the hammer.
What is springing out of all this love and quietude is some new Aspen - albeit without skis. A homespun version of Salzburg where men and women think, play music, perform theatrical pieces, and intellectualize about the wonder of the cosmos.
To provide the proper setting for such an exercise, $25 million is being programmed into the venture - enough to make anyone quiet, if not ashen. The money will create a heartland of academe and attendant tourism in a Southern Indiana town that numbers fewer than 1,000 residents.
The inspiration for the new New Harmony springs from its original settlers. In 1814, a dissident Lutheran named George Rapp, who had emigrated from Wurttemburg, Germany, with a group of believers, bought 5,000 acres of river valley land in the western outback of Indiana. Here Father Rapp and his followers prepared for the Second Coming, which they thought was imminent. They pooled their resources, established a successful communist community, and built a bustling town they called New Harmony.
The first Harmony had been in Pennsylvanian where, alas, they found the winters unharmonious for raising crops. In the comparative warmth of Indiana, they grew hops for their brewery, grapes for their distillery, and peaches that fell in such abundance they fed the overage to the pigs.
Besides peachy pigs, they also produced shoes, manufactured woolens and ginned cotton. They traded their goods on the river, had stores in five towns and agents as far afield as Europe. They were the "wonder of the West."
A hundred and fifty years afte Rapp left Indiana, a foundation called Historic New Harmony was formed. Its aim is to restore and rebuild bits and parts of the town as it existedin the early days of Rapp's Harmonists. Some reconstructions, such as original log cabins, are purely for display, but others will house the inner workings for a vast program of arts and the humanities hooked into more than two dozen cooperating universities.
No barrels are made in the old cooper shop, which will become a museum of the theater. Nearby reconstruction provides facilities for secnery construction that will feed the four theaters operated by the New Harmony Theater Co., a venture of the University of Evansville.
Travelers who venture to this sweet corner of serenity will be able to watch scenery being made. They can tour the Harmonist buildings, attend the seasonal stage productions.
Best of all, they can stay at the lovely little New Harmony Inn, a hide-away hotel of splendid taste. No TV, no radio, no blare, no bustle. The rooms are done in fine woods and brick, and there is that spare influence of the Shakers, a sect the Harmonists resembled.
Splashes of architecture are intended to please the senses, as in Philip Johnson's Roofless Church. For parishioners, the sky is the roof, the centerpiece a shingled "dropped handkerchief" sheltering a Virgin by Jacques Lipchitz.
Underway is a Theatrum, an outdoor theater placed alongside the Atheneum, a conference hall with attached restaurant designed by Richard Meier. Its white enamelled arches and catwalks will rise above a plain that floods in April, providing a natural moat.
The new New Harmony is a restoration that will live and grow, thriving on intellectual exchange. It is well remembered here that Rapp's sect died out, a victim of its own rule of celibacy. No such restrictions are planned in the new community emerging on the banks of the Wabash.