By: Batya Weiss
I struggle to listen closer, cocking my head to the side and furrowing my brow as if that will help, but it never does. I’m just as confused as always. All I hear is a single line of sound. I cognitively know that it is not a single instrument. Then I hear scratching and I know it’s a “string” instrument. I hear a beautiful soft sound and I recognize the “wind” instruments entering. Isolated like this I can recognize each and admire their uniqueness. But then, the orchestra re-enters. How can that sound be made up of so many instruments at once? I just don’t get it. They all blend into one. Where have all the instruments gone? All I hear is one new “bigger” instrument. Cognitively though, I know they are all still there playing. They are playing in harmony with each other. I can answer the question correctly. I cannot feel it in my bones.
All I hear is the pulse. When the percussions enter, I get so excited I can hear them distinctly. It’s beautiful. That one big “orchestra” instruments fades to the background of my consciousness and all I can hear, all I can see, is the rhythm. I experience drums. My body wants to dance to the pulse. I see the movement in my mind. The beat and I are moving in harmony. We don’t swallow each other like the instruments do when they play together; we remain separate while together. I can see my body moving and the rhythm moving polyphonically along with me.
Suddenly, I saw it. I felt it. I saw the conductor point to the strings section. I knew where to look. All the violinists began moving in a machine like motion. They moved with beautiful precision together. They led the music. They controlled the music. As the woodwinds entered, the violinists held on to their creation, continuing to guide and reinvent it. I could look at them and know, actually know, what they were playing. I looked over to the trumpets, and the sound clearly streamed out of the trumpeters tensed abdomens. When I looked back at the violinists, my ear followed. I was able to compartmentalize. It was then that I finally got a glimpse into how complicated and intricate the music we listen to actually is. So many things happen at once that somehow all work together. The orchestra was one big dance and I could finally see each dancer. I could understand their individual challenge and the strength they must possess to execute each motion. I gained a tremendous level of respect for the art. Music became a sensory activity rather than a cognitive one. I didn’t have to contort my face anymore to try and understand.
I close my eyes to take in the moment. I lost it. I quickly reopen my eyes. It is all still there and once again clear. I stay alert for the rest of the concert. When I come back to class, I try my hardest to relive it. I try to re-experience that simple clarity. One concert was not enough. I can’t hold onto what I had learned. At least now, to a small extent, I understand what I’m missing. I’m struggling again. I’m searching for the different sections. I try to picture them, try to imagine the different parts dancing together, but my visual mind persistently remains blank. I cock my head to the side and furrow my brow. I can’t wait to go back and feel it once again.