The Beauty of Music
You’ll find the above quote about 25 minutes into what turned out to be one of his last interviews. It’s quite a fascinating minute or so: he’s talking about watching Janine Jansen -- the Dutch violinist -- play a Tchaikovsky concerto at The Lincoln Center, and as he talks, all you feel is brimming excitement. He describes everything so vividly -- the conductor, the violin, the audience -- he’s clearly overwhelmed, and it’s touching. And then, about 10 minutes later, he says something just as lovely:
I think that music is what language would love to be if it could.
Music has found its way into my life in some wonderful ways recently. In her poem, Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way, Mary Oliver has a wonderful line about the authenticity of music, something that made me really look for truth in most everything. Music: not something you normally think of in terms of honesty.
In all the works of Beethoven, you will / not find a single lie.
Then, in an interview with Paul Simon, he was in the middle of talking about his early moments of creativity, and he has a passing mention about his year in law school that resonated deeply with me:
That was a complete misunderstanding of who I was.
More recently, it was Yo-Yo Ma talking about how music is defined by silence -- about the gaps between notes -- in a way that reminded me of John Cage (and also a delightful chapter in A Visit From The Goon Squad):
Is it — is it a smooth transfer: it's automatic, it feels easy, you glide into the next note? Or you have to reach to get to the — you have to physically or mentally or effortfully reach to go from one note to another? Could the next note be part of the first note? Or could the next note be a different universe? You know, have you just crossed into some amazing boundary and suddenly the second note is a revelation?
And always -- at least, it seem like always -- music seems to forever come back to Janis Joplin and the soundtrack she gave the few months I lived in San Francisco. This line, from her final interview, has never left me:
You are what you settle for. You are only as much as you settle for.
How do I tie all these ends together (if such a thing is even necessary)? All I need to do, I think, is refer back to that lovely line of O’Donohue’s, about language wishing it could be music. Yes, that seems to make the most sense. Because everything above -- beauty, poetry, self-awareness, peace, and how authentically you’re committed to living -- all seem to be most thunderous to me when expressed musically. Not always, but sometimes. And those sometimes stop me dead in my tracks.