This was originally published in the Valley Voices section of the Fresno Bee on October 20, 2001. It was written several years before that. It seems like a lifetime ago that these dark sounds could have resonated with me so powerfully. Today, I am such an upbeat, cheerful person. However, it is a much requested piece of writing among friends and family, so I am sharing it again.
Several years ago, a friend and I went to see a concert with a classical piece by Beethoven and a more modern piece by 20th century composer, Alfred Schnittke, performed at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. I was pretty sure I would hate the modern piece, because I do not like cacophony for the sake of being loud and noisy and “artsy” – but I was completely blown away. It was my life story in music.
There was a female Viola soloist, a full symphony, a harpsichord, up-right piano, grand piano and a harp. (Let me fast forward and say that afterward, I met several people who had hated it, but once I shared what I had been seeing – the story I followed throughout the piece, they loved it!) This is what I “saw.”
The violist was the main character of the story. This was her life, and the orchestra was “The World” or “Bad Experiences in Life.” She would play beautifully and then little by little, some instrument in the orchestra would start chiming in at the wrong time, in the wrong chord, completely dissonant. She would shrug it off and keep playing, but the orchestra (the world) would get louder and louder and burst into some horrific sounding stuff. It would almost drown her out.
If you continued watching only her, you would see the orchestra finally start to influence her. Even her body movements would show the effect. Her shoulders would hunch forward, her face would contort, and slowly, her music would become ugly. The orchestra would die out completely and all that would be left was her dreadful sound, dragging and crying and tortured. She was all alone and punishing herself for the ugliness of the world.
Then she would begin to get a grip on things. Her music would become lovely again. Sometimes the three pianos would play along with her and she would be in sync with the world. The orchestra would even become beautiful. But then it would run amok and gain speed and get completely out of control again.
This happened over and over again, and each time it seemed harder for the soloist to regain a beauty after the outburst of the world. At one point, the orchestra went completely hysterical, grinding and screaming and sounding horrendous. She was trying so hard to be heard over the chaos. She was even standing taller and stretching upward. The music wouldn’t let up and finally… she stopped. She bowed her head.
I had tears in my eyes. I was on the edge of my seat. I was begging her not to let the world win, not to let it silence her or stop her music. After a moment of agony (on my part), she raised her head, thrust her shoulders back and began plucking the strings. I wanted to cheer! “Bravo! She’s still got her sense of humor!”
Back and forth and over and over again, the world thrust terrible things at her. Sometimes she would prevail and remain beautiful throughout the interruptions, and sometimes she would give in and be destroyed.
But she was never actually silenced. In the end, she held one note for almost two minutes, gradually softening, gracefully ending her song.
I was beside myself. I wanted to jump out of my seat and cheer and scream. But most of the audience hadn’t understood it and I was sad that the applause was not as enthusiastic as I would have liked. The orchestra stood and applauded her though. They had understood the story, or at least her talent.
I was moved by this strange music more than any piece I have ever heard. My friend, Brian, kept nodding off and afterwards I told him that “This was my life story!”
“Oh,” he yawned, “that’s why I kept falling asleep then. I’ve heard it before.”
It was magnificent and I feel I learned a lot. I got to see someone else living my chaotic life. I got to see her triumph and fall apart. I wept and cheered for her. She was so beautiful and so strong, so weak and hurting, all swept together and intertwined.
photo from here