Isn’t it funny how the most unexpected things will get to you sometimes?
I haven’t really cried since my grandfather passed away. I cried a little and then quickly looked away after I saw him in his casket, looking so small and withered by time. I cried briefly on the drive home, distraught about leaving my poor Meemo behind on her own for the first time in years. And I cried a little tonight, while watching The War on PBS, thinking about all of the war stories Granddaddy told and which I’d never hear again. I wouldn’t say that I’m being stoic; I’m just trying to keep myself occupied with other thoughts until I’m able to think about him without the grief overwhelming me, until I’m able to think straight.
So, I was shuffling around YouTube tonight as I’m wont to do when I need to keep myself occupied, and I came across this clip. I found myself bawling before the timpani even came in.
It’s been a good ten years since I played the Egmont overture. But I remember it as clearly as I’m sitting here now. I remember the smell of fresh rosin on my bow; the tightness of the strings; the tightness of my back as I strained to keep my posture perfect as I played; the intensity of our conductor; the way his baton stabbed through to the heart of each of us, keeping us fearful and passionate; the halting breaths of the first bars and the frenzied climax at the end, playing so hard that I thought my fingers would wear through the fingerboard and stroking the strings so fast that I thought I would set the bow on fire. God, I loved the terror and the exhilaration of playing the Egmont.
There is a deep, aching void inside of me caused by the fact that I no longer play with a symphony orchestra, or even with a chamber orchestra or string quartet. I play on my own now, and only then when no one is home. My dexterity on the fingerboard is gone these days, my bowing is ill-timed but still graceful, my sight-reading is for shit. And, most of all, it hurts too much to play alone. Everyone knows that a viola is not a solo instrument.
I see this as one of the great losses in my life: no longer playing the viola. It is as acute of a loss to me as my own grandfather’s passing. No longer being able to play the Egmont overture; no longer being able to hold my grandfather’s hand and stroke his hair and have our inside jokes and special names. Both are deep wounds that I will always carry with me.
Sergiu Celibidache once said, “I am not content that the world has not discovered that music is not an amusement or a source of joy or satisfaction. It is much higher than that.” And of course it is. How else could a simple overture feel like a kick in the gut — bring such stark pain — if it were just an amusement? How can you miss something so much if it were just an amusement? I don’t get misty-eyed over the loss of my NES or the pink Huffy I had in elementary school. Music — the symphony — was a way of life for me, it was a gift and a blessing and a burden to care so much about something.
I hope that with the passage of time, these things will hurt less. I know that they probably won’t, and that my yearning for them will grow stronger with each year that passes. I will always wish that I’d had more time with my grandfather and I will always regret not spending more time with him at the end. I will always wish that I’d been more appreciative of the time I spent playing music and I will always regret abandoning it and turning my back on it for years. The clarity of time makes your true regrets stand out like beacons in a lost and lonely sea of poor judgment and bad decsions.
But the important thing is to stay occupied and stay busy, not to dwell on the past. It’s easy to get lost in that Sargasso sea, and to slip beneath its soft waves and find yourself drowning in regret. No, it’s best just to keep treading water until you can find the shore again.