Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Elevator Music

In the last 8 years, the size of my home, was divided by half, then half again, not due to finances, but simply by choice.  I now have a 1200 square foot home, with a shop area almost as big.  It's not fancy, and I've smiled more here than in any giant McMansion I've owned.

For what is contained in that house, is only what is essential or  holds the most special of memories in it.  Some of such things are two violins, one very old, one fairly new.

Music is something I grew up with, playing piano and clarinet in both band and orchestra. As an adult there was a keyboard in the crash pad living room, a guitar often nearby, even if I didn't play often. But late in life, I decided I wanted to learn to play something new, what I wished I'd have learned instead of the clarinet.

I remember the trip to the music store 8 years ago, to look at violins, so many instruments of beauty, of power, love, lust, longing, faith, joy. So many ways to paint a picture on the silence of your life.  I didn't let the"oh, is this for your child?" deter me and I came home with my first violin in my 40's, the music from the store trailing like a contrail in the twilight.
It was harder than I expected, and I'd like to say I'm really good, but as a violinist, I'm a really good piano player.  Still, I have no regrets about giving it a try.

The first step is always the hardest. Trying something new. Embracing something long forgotten that at one time you loved. Embracing something you've never done but wanted to. I see it in people who take up a new hobby, a new career, late in life. I see it in friends who after years, or even decades of marriage, find themselves alone, as they fling themselves out into the dating pool again (which for most feels less like the pool at Holiday Inn and more like a scene from Jaws)
But we do it, in tiny leaps upward propelled by longing and only held back by the gravity of timidity.  It's not much different than learning to fly; the trepidation of the first solo. It's the fear of the what we don't know that holds us back, as a huge unknown beckons. The sky is almost human in its passions, almost spiritual in its quiet, and as likely to forgive as a scorned lover. But to certain people, it is the mystery that calls, until one morning, waking slowly upon this sleep-fast earth, they finally hear.

If I could have put some of my aerial adventures to music, what a song it would have been. Flying can be as mathematical precise as Bach, as fluid as Chopin and as restful as Brahms. I've had landings that were as lyrical as Vivaldi and I've had some that should have been set to the theme from Loony Tunes. There are flights that play in my head like a well worn record; there were flights that were less about moving towards a destination of physical place but more about moving toward a moment in time, a place in which fate and need became one. Had I listened to those that said "you can't do that" because of my age or gender or both, I'd have missed out on that grand adventure.
The only time you are too old to learn is when you cease to breathe. One is never too ingrained in their habits to take up the instrument that for them, will be the perfect blend of the joyous with the sublime, hands stroking a thing of beauty as it resonates with the sound of their dreams, the lingering notes of their need. So, be it an instrument, or putting hand to paper and crafting that book you always wanted to write, or crafting something else of your hands and brain, try it.  You have no guarantee of success but at least the music of your longings, that chorus that fills up those quiet spaces, will be heard, if only by you.

We'll never be 20 again. You can't make the years rewind like a tape. The Roman Poet Ovid said "All things change, nothing is extinguished, everything flows onward". Yet my music will pull me onward, pull me forward, calming me, soothing my mind, giving it peace, becoming the soundtrack of my life even as it propels me to explore my world.
What I listen to is diverse, at best, but good music for me may not be what's popular. Good music is a place where genres fuse; where concertos become operatic and arias symphonic; where glee and grief, the downtrodden and the sanctified, become one. A place where time is much too short, as with each note we are aware of our allotted span dwindling, time in which we not only have to find our true path, but derive some joy from the journey.

Though I enjoy many styles of music, I'm drawn the deepest into the classics. Many great composers have expressed the extremes of life: affirmation, despair, the sanctity of grace, the rush of sensual pleasure, fertile touch and barren void. But there are certain pieces of work in which all these emotions co-exist in the infinity of a short song, making it fuller, richer, touching a chord deep within. We play or listen to our music as we love, for different reasons, to redeem ourselves through the expression of it, to find forgiveness as well as reconciliation with what lives deep within.

Certain songs, certain sounds touch us like memory.  They can calm or uplift, they can bring us to cry, the quick, clear tears of a child for a lost toy or the long drawn out keen of  a love forever lost, salt on our face, salt in our wounds. When the tears stop, they can provide that beat in which we can place one painful footstep forward , muscle memory functioning in the desolation of grief.
Music is the landscape of the absolute, not as defined by black and white, but in those gray shores where beauty ebbs in and away, like the tide, where everything is contingent and nothing simple, and time is so very brief. A place where, as Henry James’s Madame Merle says, "an envelope of circumstances encloses every human life".

Music is as life is, it flows like wine and spills like wine, a communion with something as profound and rapturous as heaven. It is caressing whisper, it is epithet. It can touch you as if it were light, not decanted from heaven but as if  it was suspired from the heart itself.  It fills the room as scent does, leaving upon the senses the aftermath of invitation and  temporal promise, that secret affidavit, like scent itself.
Perhaps that is why I associate flying and music.  The two experiences are intertwined in my mind even if the only song playing in the cockpit was the hip hop beep of an aural warning system, the constant murmuring sound of the engines in still, serene air.

There were days when there was no sense of motion, my craft seeming to hang upon the high, clear sky in a tranquil paradox of time and motion, held on the air like a sustained note. There were days in which storms crashed around me, a kettle drum rumble of thunder warning me away, ice pellets striking the windshield with the ringing truth of a bell.  It would have been my loss had I not experienced both, but would have, had I listened to those that said "you shouldn't do that".
For both brought things to me that were worth every risk. Both induced in me a sense of the infinite and the contemplation of that which is unseen. Music and flying are both wonder, or can be. What is wonder to me may not be wonder to you, but you may understand it, the passion, the yearning for something that's only yet a taste, the visceral connection between the soul and what elevates it to the heavens. It is what strikes in you, that same chord, the same spark that is embedded in some hearts. Something that, in certain individuals, is simply part of our most basic and natural inability to live with the lonesome gravity of silence.

So when you wake up at dawn, listen carefully.  For there, within air that is loud with birds, you may hear it, that choral strophe that is your mystery and your wonder, laid out upon an altar of blue, waiting for you to answer.
- Brigid