Where your wound is, that is where your genius will be (Robert Bly)

I had the pleasure yesterday of attending a performance of my favorite piece of music, Beethoven’s 9th and final symphony, at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. While many people like this piece, and for good reason, I’m not sure that they’ve listened to it hundreds of times or attended its live performance as often as I have. I never tire of it. While my dog moans to the crescendos in the third movement (I can’t listen to that part in his presence), I delight in them. I was once asked at a retreat “If you could, at the moment of your death, transcend into some work of art, which would you choose?” The Ninth was my choice. I not only admire it for its structure and composition, but for the fact that something so beautiful, so powerful, so uplifting, so sublime could be written by a man so tormented, miserable and unhappy (and, of course, deaf). That thought brought tears to my eyes yesterday as I listened to the plaintive opening notes of the third movement and thought of his resounding, defiant triumph over misery.

I leave my music to heal the world - Beethoven

Beethoven lamented that “They who think me hostile, obstinate or misanthropic, how unjust they are to me, for they do not know the secret reason I appear that way. It is not possible for me to say, “Speak louder. Shout. I am deaf!” How can I live if my enemies, who are many, believe I no longer possess the one sense that should be perfect to a higher degree in me than in others?” Not known for modesty, he declared “everything will pass, and the world will perish but the Ninth Symphony will remain … I leave my music to heal the world.”

If someone gave me a time machine and I were allowed to go to only one place and time, I would quite possibly choose Vienna on the night of May 7, 1824. To be in the audience during Beethoven’s premiere of his masterpiece would be the ultimate thrill. He hadn’t appeared on stage or written a major work in 12 years. He was at this point completely deaf. He had written a symphony that, for the first time ever, included a chorus – not only unheard of, but they actually sat silent for the first 45 minutes of the piece. The entire work was more than an hour long, also unheard of at the time, and was very demanding on the orchestra, who thought it too difficult to perform. Beethoven was so unable to conduct them due to his deafness that they were instructed to ignore his direction.

And yet, just over an hour later, his masterpiece met with such enthusiastic ovations – five – that police had to break them off lest they overshadow the applause and attention given to the royal couple, who were in attendance. At the end of the symphony, Beethoven, not realizing the music had stopped, still had his back to the exploding audience, oblivious to their reaction. When turned around by a soloist, with tears in her eyes, he saw people throwing their hats into the air and gesturing wildly to get his attention. The hall had never seen such a thunderous ovation. Beethoven was moved to tears, and music would never be the same.

A copy of the manuscript sold for $3.3 million in 2003, being called “one of the highest achievements of man”. It is included in the Memory of the World register, and was chosen, in a condensed form, as the official anthem of the European Union. It has been said that “only the most cynical of listeners can walk away from a performance of the ninth symphony without sensing that all could be well with the world, if only the world wished it so.” While the utopian words of brotherhood sung in the finale’s famous “Ode to Joy” are by the German poet Schiller, the first line sung was an uncharacteristic sentiment of Beethoven’s: “Friends, no more of these sad tones. Rather, let us lift our voices in more cheerful sounds.”

If you have never listened to this piece of music, you owe it to yourself to do so at least once in your lifetime (I highly recommend the version conducted by Sergiu Celibidache, or the Ode to Freedom concert in Berlin by Leonard Bernstein). You may not like it upon first hearing, but if you do, you may just discover something special to cherish during difficult times, to remind yourself that you, too, can triumph. It was one of my first introductions to classical music, and its power and pathos had me instantly hooked (I feel similarly towards Tchaikovsky’s later symphonies, and many of his orchestral works).

From Beethoven’s eulogy: “Ludwig van Beethoven is no more. Who will stand beside him? He was an artist, and what he was he was only through music. The thorns of life had wounded him deeply. So he held fast to his art, even when the gate through which it entered was shut. Music spoke through a deafened ear, to he who could no longer hear it. He carried the music in his heart. Because he shut himself off from the world, they called him hostile. They said he was unfeeling, and called him callous. But he was not hard of heart. It is the finest blades that are most easily blunted, bent, or broken. He withdrew from his fellow man, after he had given them everything; and he had received nothing in return. He lived alone, because he found no second self. Thus he lived, thus he died. Thus he will live for all time.”

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A blog introduction: passions, intentions and introversion

Blogs.   Do people actually read them in today’s endlessly busy and distracted world?   I will soon find out.   But whether anyone reads or not,  I have always found writing to be an endeavor that mostly benefits the author.  If others benefit as well, then that is an added bonus – and a gratifying one.

This blog will be loosely structured with many topics, all from my particular perspective.  Therefore, it would seem prudent to share a little about myself.

I am a 48-year old single gay male living in Eastern Connecticut, where I was born during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (the famous “missiles of October”).  I was a somewhat troubled, melancholy, lonely child who often felt like I was living in a semi-autistic fog, and those old feeling states have occasionally plagued me into adulthood.

I am a lifelong introvert, something I haven’t really appreciated about myself until recently.  It was a bit of a revelation when I read the textbook definition of introversion and almost every trait rang true.  I am overwhelmed easily by too much contact or stimulation.  I recharge my batteries by being alone, and strongly crave alone time after a few hours of being social.  I usually abhor chitchat, cell phones, cocktail parties and interviews.  I don’t like being interrupted or put on the spot, because it can take an introvert time to focus and I need time to process my thoughts and form a response.  I express myself much better on paper than in person.  I have been praised since grade school for my writing skills.  I have few friends, and the few relationships I have that I enjoy are the deeper ones.  I dislike surface contact.  Things have to have meaning and make sense or I have little patience for them.  I’m a good listener, provided what I’m hearing has some depth.  I am drawn to introspection and reflection.

I am also a lifelong entrepreneur, having started my own business when I was 18 and keeping it for almost 30 years.  Working for myself appealed to me greatly as I dislike authority figures and taking orders.  I am self-motivated and don’t need someone barking at me.  Since I now work for someone else (long story for future post), I have to endure some barking.  Hence the bumper sticker on my car:  “Wag More.  Bark Less.” Praise goes much further than criticism, yet seems seldom used in the average workplace.

Some interests/passions of mine include music (symphonic, esp. Beethoven and Tchaikovsky; opera (Puccini, Gilbert & Sullivan); Neil Diamond, who I have seen in concert a dozen times and whose music I have a deep affinity for; reading (a true introvert passion!  Love Shakespeare, Dickens, King, Koontz, Preston/Childs); American history, the presidency, quantum physics and the true nature of “reality,” consciousness studies, metaphysics, and basically the notion that we create our own reality.

I greatly admire those who manage to creatively express themselves in ways that others relate deeply to – especially, those who take their pain and torment and create something divine (Tchaikovsky, Beethoven).  I consider Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to be the greatest work of art I have ever experienced, and have a separate blog posting about it.  As Robert Bly observed, “where your wound is, that is where your genius will be.” Tchaikovsky is another hero in this department.

I hope you enjoy my posts and find something that strikes a chord or two in you.  To quote a passage from my favorite movie, Shadowlands, “we read to know we’re not alone.” I hope I make you feel less alone.