the symphony

I’ve been trying to write this blog post for weeks.  I jotted down all of my thoughts the night of the event and proceeded to lose and find that sheet of paper at least five times.  It’s currently lost.

One weekend in April this year, I went to the symphony for the very first time.  My friend and I gawked at the Rococo gold-and-white beauty that is Powell Hall, settled down in our fancy dresses, and waited for it to begin.

It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and I can safely say that it was life-changing.

Although I expected to like it, I didn’t expect the explosion of thought that would accompany enjoyment of the music.  I was completely fixed in my seat, but it was as if that tethering of intense focus only gave my thoughts more room to come alive above the wordless music.  Each different twist and turn of the music pushed my mind in another direction, prodding it, summoning up ideas and realizations.

The symphony itself was incredible.  I sometimes listen to classical music as I study, but this was arresting, much more so than mere background music.  There’s that lovely moment of prescience on the note right before where you wait on that cusp, feeling a contented jolt at a correct prediction and an electric pleasure at being proved surprisingly wrong.

Berlioz was terrifyingly brilliant.  Paganini was a madman. Aren’t all artists mad, though, I thought?  If madness is seeing something that isn’t there, then poets and artists – seeing the past, the future, and people that don’t even exist – are raving.  If madness is seeing what isn’t, then I was hallucinating right there, living in between two realities, planted in one and peering into the other.  These are some of my visions.

Watching so many people move together as a unit evoked an imperfect metaphor of the body of Christ and how beautiful true community can be.  In true community both people’s individual selves are kept intact as well as the group as a whole (Romans 12).  Diversity in the midst of community is one of the most beautiful things the body of Christ exhibits, people from every tongue and tribe and nation coming together for the singular purpose of living life together to praise God.

I thought about the misjudgement people make in comparing writing to music, and the beauty in telling a story without any words at all.  I tried to feel the plot from the notes and the instruments, and I didn’t completely get it.  But I remember feeling uneasy as my hairs rose, prickling, on my arms, or feeling relief at the tolling of bells.

I was also utterly captived by Augustin Hadelich, the violinist.  I saw how beautiful passion makes a person, and how much more there is to beauty than just physical appearance.  As he played, I thought about the intimacy of relationship between a musician and his or her instrument.  He knew every inch of the violin, exactly what to do with it, how to explore and find new wholes and play old melodies in an entirely new way.  He played, and I found myself in a space outside of time, and the rest of the world could keep on moving while I stayed and listened to him.

I imagined him as a boy, learning to clumsily pluck the strings of his new instrument, or maybe a borrowed violin, lightyears different from the borrowed violin that he currently played.  I imagined his first recital, his frustration that, even though his ability was growing, he still couldn’t play the hard pieces.  I imagined the horror that he felt after being trapped in that fire, his flesh rearranged and reconstructed, the terror that must have gripped him at the idea he might never play again.  And I imagined him with white hair, his mended skin wrinkling, playing with as much feeling and skill as he did here.

I saw the dome of the symphony hall tremble, speed up, begin to decay.  I imagined the cushions falling from their seats and the lights blowing out and leaving tiny shards of glass on the dirty carpet, the roof sagging and the paint peeling and the wind blowing leaves across the empty stage.  I imagined the hall in a hundred years, desolate, nature performing for herself and no one else, and I wondered if, even then, it would remember the sound of that symphony, if it would somehow ingrain itself into the structure.  If it would hold it close and bring it back up on lonely days, when the storm outside didn’t quite reach the inside, when the plinked dripping of the rain through the floorboards of the stage renewed itself in Paganini or Berlioz and the ghostly tune swelled within the shell of the hall.

And then a gasp of air, and the hall is glowing golden again, complete and full of life and music and the hushed rustle of hundreds of bodies shifting in their seats, fabric against velvet.

I’m sure there was more than this, and I’m disappointed that I don’t remember the flood of ideas.  I wished that symphonies could be like museums, letting everyone experience what I had; I wondered if everyone would want to.  I thought much of writing, much of inventiveness, much of God, some of others, and little of love.  But the symphony was nearly two months ago, now, and my memory has left me with this and with a feeling of fulfillment, peace, and reaching beyond my own shell.

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Listen to this: Augustin Hadelich playing Paganini: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsJyuJppA7s

Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DWjI1uLSzw

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monet

Last Friday, I spent a good five hours in an art museum, and it was beautiful. Fantastic. My goal was to find somewhere to “study” (and I did do some work in the café/ impressionist portraiture room), but the works in the museum were amazing as well. I was going to go back today, too, but the rain that had been threatening all morning finally arrived in all its dreary glory, and walking thirty minutes in the rain sans umbrella didn’t seem like the best idea.  So about an hour of Mock the Week later (funniest things…), I’m still indoors… Back to art.

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Anyway, I was privileged enough to see a triptych of Monet’s water lilies and ended up sitting in front of them for a good, solid hour.  Just looking, and then writing:

At first, I couldn’t really tell if I was impressed by the art or the artists’ names – by my own judgment or the opinions of others.

But this… this is strange.

I’m sitting in front of Monet’s Agapanthus, and the longer I look, the more amazed I become.  The colors, the strokes, the size… and suddenly, I have an enormous lump in my throat, and I’m astounded and a little confused.  I don’t know what it is.  But in this moment, I am dwarfed by the painting and his artistry.

It feels wrong to do work here.  I was thinking about it… but no.  This… the thing about art is that it preserves a tiny piece of that person who created it for everyone else to see and observe.  Looking at these pieces made by long-dead hands, I feel somehow connected to these men of different cultures and eras.  When I saw that van Gogh made those paintings right before his suicide, I couldn’t help but be moved.  That poor, dear, underappreciated man.  But he left behind a part of himself- a piece of his soul­- for us to know him.

And almost as interesting (if not as interesting) as the art are the people around me looking as well.  Passing through, changing, milling about.  Since I’ve been sitting in front of this work, the room has already changed almost entirely several times.

There are a lot of couples who seem interested, or are trying to be.  Some listening to the guided tours.  Several elderly folks who truly appreciate this beauty – more than I do, I know.  One solitary old man who looks like he’s stepped straight out of the impressionist era minus the straw hat.

And the ones who just stop and stare, smile, gasp, point, trace with a finger in the air the curves of the art to their children, their other, themselves.  I’m witnessing the power of this dead paint to move someone.  Of course it’s not the paint, but a capturing and reflection of the soul who placed it there.

There’s still a lump in my throat.

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Read this“For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”  ~John Milton.
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