To Be Hardly Able to Hear, Yet Hearing

To Be Hardly Able to Hear, Yet Hearing May 28, 2021

I thought the concert would be glorious, but the music was hard work.

Let me tell about an experience in learning mostly failed by me, but where a few gleams of joy over time made all worthwhile. This might encourage someone else to try the same: hard music, new to you, played live, and learned through meditation.

All this began on never ending daytime in Russia.

We walked to the Opera House together, hand in hand, in Saint Petersburg, a city that had filled my dreams for forty years.  Music is necessary and even if I am no musician myself, I know the necessity of good music. 

One does what one can.

Hope Reynolds is a music educator and she was with me to help. The difficulty is that when she listens to music, she does not wish to talk about how to listen to music. This was a flaw at the very start of my plan. She was lost in the glory and I was not boor enough to interrupt.

The music was Wagner, and I have some passing familiarity with this composer. That would help. However, the particular opera, all about the Flying Dutchman, was not familiar to me and the subtitles and program were in Russian. This makes perfect sense given that we were in Russia, but given my ignorance of both German and Russian, the words were not going to make sense to me. There was, however, the music, and there was a great deal of music. Randy and Kate Gremillion, my primary opera teachers and our BFF’s, were many time zones asleep. No texts would save me.

Add jet lag and the game was afoot: could I stay awake?

The answer was: not altogether.

The music began, gloriously, though the air-conditioner was European not very cold, pretty warm, and so sleep, like hemlock in Socrates, began to rise from my feet to my head. Things were, I think, happening in Norway, a country rarely of interest to anyone not from Norway or Minnesota.

I was left only with the music.

Earnest music teachers, once upon a childhood, had me draw, imagine stories, make a mental Fantasia of the music, but there was too much Russian pulchritude dashing about on stage to allow for these tricks.

There was only the music, more music, and even more music.

I hardly could hear, but could not help hearing. Slowly, between nods, I began to listen. There only was music and the music seized me, not for long, I was not educated enough for the full revelation of glory, but I knew to persist through the “boredom” and the tedium. Eventually, I began to listen only to the music. My mind found a rest that words could not give me.

I love words, but music could do something words could not do. My heart, soul, and mind became united wordlessly. Somehow I got “it,” whatever it is, for a few brief seconds. This took minutes of dozing, fighting to hear, and then suddenly snapping to attention. There were stabs of joy, very few and far between.

All was well.

This was predictable, given that I was listening to world class music by wonderful musicians. This was what my soul needed, even if I had not prepared to run the distance. Everything about the concert was splendid, I was the problem. Accepting this, like any visitor to another land, made all the difference. The land of music began to open up.

This was harder than I should have tried: like an overweight man running a marathon first!

Yet between my puffs and wheezes, I could see what was there. And so I kept trying (the Ring Cycle in Houston!).

I kept thinking and feeling about what I had seen and heard. Reading helped, but mostly I persisted and slowly began to learn. I kept thinking, even tonight, about what I had heard. Mostly, my heart tried to recollect what the music was and is.

What is it to hear music and not just think about music?

Something like giving over the intellect, heart, and body to the musicians. If they can be trusted, then one comes out better than one came into the concert. That is very good: a shortcut to glory!

The work grows less hard over time, mayhap, but the glory no more surprising. Great music challenges odd crevices that even written philosophy hardly can reach. There is, in the best music, a precision, a mathematical rigor, that combines with passion. We are moved to think and think erotically.

Let the choir sing! Let the band play on! 

Joy brings music, disaster is made meaningful with music. Those of us who must struggle to hear, must keep trying, because the reward, the sheer delight, is so much greater than what we put into the effort. We begin slowly, full of sleepiness, but suddenly shiver in delight. I can hardly hear, but I can hear.

The little bit we hear is so great, if we keep recollecting, then the little will multiply. We will have enough and to spare: what we need with abundance. 

Browse Our Archives