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.
Listen to this: Augustin Hadelich playing Paganini: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsJyuJppA7s
Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DWjI1uLSzw