The Sound of Music (originally published September 29, 2011)


A giant finger reaches from the sky and plucks the golden string that sets into motion the rhythm of the city from ocean to bay.Music spills from the doorways of windowless clubs where unknown bands sweat in obscurity.   Elsewhere in the city, six hundred people float upon the jazz guitarist’s plush and intoxicating tunes.  At a bluegrass festival in the park, friends congregate under a floating orange orb ready to live out once again the blissful spirit and sounds of their younger years.  The bass beats from an idling car deliver painful sound waves that feel like marbles dropping on my eardrums.  Silent melodies declare themselves in the movements of roving young men who drift down sidewalks, wires sprouting from their ears.

In this weekend of music my husband and I find ourselves in the symphony hall thanks to the generosity of a man who infused the symphonic beat into the souls of my sons, using every tool at his disposal from the tiny tinkling triangle to the mighty marimba.

Unlike many of the others who are also there, for the first time I’m about to see the man who is often referred to only by his initials.

We come dressed in jeans and tuxedos.  We are old and young.  We are nimble and we are crippled.  The throng moves slowly through the doors and up the stairs.  I slip off to join the seemingly endless line for the ladies’ restroom where biology and Mahler’s absolute demand for our undivided attention sends us scurrying.  A few moments later my cell phone vibrates.  Abandon the line, my husband warns.  The lights are dimming.

He walks onto the stage like the celebrity he is, elegant and silver-haired, a man whom one could imagine in the salons of Versailles.  Certainly if you saw him at your local Starbucks you would take a second look and say to yourself, this man must be someone.

He sets into motion the celebration of life that is Mahler’s third symphony.

With his wisp of a baton he could be carving the wing of a butterfly on an ice statue.  At other times he appears to paint a canvas of life with the colorful notes of his open hand.  When his arms reach skywards, face tilted up, eyes closed, he looks like a man who has been touched by divine inspiration.

The music grows and swirls and growls and whispers.  I imagine the orchestra to be a corporeal being.  The percussion is the heart, the strings become the nervous system, the brass is the tendon and muscle, the woodwinds are the skeleton.  The man with three initials is the mind that integrates and directs the movements of all.  No one part can function without the others.

Surely we should wrap the feet of these men and women in silk so they never touch the ground– they who hear and deliver the notes to the rest of us.  It seems impossible that they will go home to ordinary lives and routines.

Music is what our higher selves aspire to and what our most base selves descend to.  It is our release from boredom and suffering and our means of expressing joy.

Well into Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 come the lyrics from Friedrich Nietzsche, famed German philosopher and poet.

Deep is the pain!

Joy deeper still than heart’s sorrow!

Pain says vanish!

Yet all joy aspires to eternity…

Our day in the city has come to a close.  We return home to live out the rhythm of our own lives.  We play it by ear and, on occasion, we’re out of step.  The pain is sometimes deep, the joy is even deeper.

Music is joy.  Music is eternal.