Tag Archives: Music

Memoir, Beethoven, and a Letter from a Friend

I wish you could trace a soul. Map it out, perhaps, like a musical score.

I wish I understood what gives me goose bumbs when I read aloud to kids or tear up every time I hear Chopin’s Fantasie in C # minor. I don’t understand why dimples on a child make me melt. Or how a few words written in just the right order can physically stir my insides.

My favorite books also do this.  A few nights ago I decided to read up on memoir. I was in tears over the challenge to plow through layers of my writing (and my life) to find truth and meaning.  It’s not a natural thing for us anymore, is it? To pull back on the layers of our life…to take time to reflect and notice? I much prefer to bask in the obvious beauty of my life. But our lives house layers upon layers of stories of failure and triumphs–feelings of every kind, from hurt and disappointment to hope and compassion.

And yet. These things are hidden by what we decide to notice– what we decide to tell.

As I was reading these challenging words, I got an announcement from a friend that after a year of planning to move away from the City, she is staying. Suffice it to say, her words were gut-wrenchingly honest and moving. As the gorgeous and reflective person she is, she had not only been brave enough to peel back layers to get to a beautiful, new level of truth, but she allowed herself to be guided by it.  Her heart called for honesty and she answered.

She was living the very heart of memoir. She took on the bravery I was not ready for.

Pulling back layers might mean tears or apologies… or disappointment. And that scares me.

In another life, I was a clarinetist with a dream of being a conductor. (Hardly anyone knows this about me  anymore.) When I was 17, I had the opportunity to conduct Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. I will never forget studying with my teacher on day 1 when he handed me the score for the first time. I had memorized all 4 movements and thought I was oh so ready for my session. I knew all the major cues. Cellos here, tympani there..  I thought I was really going to impress him.    What’s that old saying.. Pride goes before. . . what? That’s right.

I looked down at a BOOK of sheet music and instead of reading 1 line at a time as I was accustomed to doing, I had 23. TWENTY THREE individuals stories to make up what I heard in my head. I could no longer choose to notice, with biased ears, the clarinet solos and familiar bits. I was forced to pay attention to the other parts. As it turns out, that clarinet solo at the end of the second movement would be NOTHING without the back and forth singing fugue coming from the strings. Before seeing the score (and the dozens of other parts and lines… stories… of the other instruments), my ears had heard what they wanted. I had only been focusing on the obvious melodies. I had no idea what was hidden beneath.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the beauty came from all of it. In fact, it depended on all of it. (*I see this even more now when I get out an old piece of music and try to play it with no piano accompanist or orchestra to help!)

I often think in analogies but I am just now realizing how much our lives are like a musical score, filled with not just 1 melody, but dozens…maybe even 23! lines and parts, all with different timbres and dynamics. Some come and go. Some repeat. And some last only a brief moment. But they are part of 1 whole that is US.

Conductors have no choice. They have to notice all the hidden parts. They must know them intimately to understand the true beauty of a piece.    Us? We have a choice every time we pick up a pen (or type on a keyboard).  How many times are we satisfied by paying attention to the obvious? The sad part is, it yields decent writing that we’re o.k. with. But where’s the beauty in that? Really.

Beauty lies in risk and the risk lies in what’s deeper. My friend and my book (and Beethoven) have shown me the power in this…  the freedom for ourselves and the connection it builds with others who are also waiting to say the unsaid.

I think we (I) need to let my heart to give in to itself and and peek at the layers of truth that hide oh so well. I need to be brave like my friend and let it change me.

Thirty might be one of my favorite recent pieces.  From afar, it’s vulnerable. But  the conductor, writer, and beauty chaser in me (yes, I’m a dork) know exactly what I must do now.

Thank you, Memoir.. Thank you, Beethoven.. Thank you dear, brave friend.


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