Playing the Symphony of Your Life

Turning on classical music transports me to another realm — a land of beauty and possibility. Music is timeless because it is an aesthetic derived from mathematics itself. It is a harmony deeply embedded in the nature of Nature. The operations of chemistry and biology, even physics are less pure than music. Only mathematics is perhaps more pure, but music is superior. It can be appreciated not only by all humans, but by plants and animals too. It is not necessary to understand music in order for it to inspire awe and wonder.

For this reason, it is the most Divine of all sensory experiences. It does not fail us by familiarity, as tastes or sights. It remains ever youthful, ever fresh. It yields an endless spring of joy and a limitless fountain of peace. The wonders of modern technology reached their apex in the ability to deliver at near zero cost what was previously only accessible to Royals and the exceedingly wealthy.

Should I be forced to choose between sight and hearing, I should at once surrender my sight if but for the chance to hear Biebl’s Ave Maria in the hour of my death. I should wish for my last moments of consciousness to be flooded of this immeasurable beauty.

In music nothing of perfection lacks, and so our whole lives should be modeled after it. Truly great music knows when to be loud, and when to be soft. It keeps silence when needed. It is forceful and shy, dramatic and humorous, serious and playful. Music celebrates and mourns. It dances, laughs, as well as weeps. It magnifies and expresses every emotion, every state of mind. It animates every dream and consoles every disappointment.

And what is music if not motion?

All that music does is motion. Symphonies and concertos are divided into “movements.” What if we so described the periods of our lives? What if we saw our life so beautifully changing as to not get caught lingering on the last note or too eagerly anticipating a future one? The beauty and fullness of the resolution requires the preceding dissonance.

What would we think of the pianist who merely rushed to the conclusion of the phrase because the dissonance caused discomfort? What would we think of the conductor who cut the symphony short because the dissonance was just too much to bear?

Imagine the scene!

The whole orchestra in the conflict of their notes and the conductor shouts “I can’t take it!” and runs off the stage. Or worse, sets fire to the whole stage because he says the players have caused him such pain in playing their notes!

And so it is with life. The story of existence has moments of dissonance — which we call problems or pain — followed by resolution. We lose tho whole plot of the thing when we think the moments of dissonance are the totality of the symphony. The notes are already written, in some sense. The Godhead, or the Universe, or whatever you want to call it, is imagining all the possible combinations of notes in an infinite symphony unfolding all around us. We are living out one such possible combination, a combination which includes every free choice and decision we make — it’s all included in these notes. The trill, the bravado, the breathing, the accent — all up to us.

Almost all of the things that make a musical performance beautiful are up to the performer. The score is just the basis on which everything plays out. But how it is played out is up to the performer. Why complain about the score, then? Why wish it were written differently? Does it get us another score?

Should I be like the petulant critic who once asked to Mozart if he thought there were just a few too many notes?

The whole symphony is written out, and we are playing it as we choose. But we should see that some people are supposed to be repeating the inventions on the theme from the first part of the movement while others are to foreshadow the new themes of the next movement, and not see each other as enemies. The violinist shouldn’t get angry at the oboe for playing a conflicting note if that’s what’s written to be played. Maybe it’s not, maybe in rehearsal we have to talk about it.

But we should never forget we’re all playing the same symphony.

Don’t try to be the composer. You aren’t up for that job. I’m not up for that job. And it doesn’t matter, because I hear they aren’t interviewing candidates for it anyway.

How can I think to rewrite the measure I’m playing now when I don’t know what measure comes next? So I must play what’s there, measure by measure, as beautifully as I can muster.

So there are just two roles for us mere mortals: conductor and player. We must practice both roles with diligence, for at times life calls us to be one and not the other.

When you find yourself as conductor, lead your orchestra through the moments of dissonance with calm confidence — show them you know it will resolve.

And when you are playing, don’t focus so hard on the black ink on the page that you fail to hear the beauty you are creating with every breath.