It had been almost two years since I heard her play.
She was supposed to play on March 12, 2020, but the symphony concert was cancelled. Shortly after the concert was cancelled, students living on campus were required to move back home. The end of her sophomore year of classes would be conducted online.
It’s not easy to be an online musician.
It’s not very much fun to be an online musician either.
Because she moved back home, of course I heard her play. She did have to practice, after all, and multiple instruments at that. Most often, she would set up her practice space right behind my writing desk, at which point I would unplug my computer and relocate to another room. I am not a writer who wrestles with words while listening to anything other than the constant tinnitus in my ears. I didn’t mind relocating. Practice is just another word for work. It’s the discipline of practice, of putting in the work, even when it’s hard, even when you don’t know when the next performance is, that leads to inspiration and wonder. I was glad she was filling up my writing space with rhythms and runs and melodies. I hoped they would hang around and encourage me as I worked through the edits of my next book.
The performance before that was in December of 2019, at the end of her first semester as a freshman. I know I attended that performance, but enough of life has happened since that I cannot recall anything in particular from it.
On Sunday, I stepped foot inside Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts exhausted from the recent fullness of life. Packing and paperwork and preparations for an upcoming move. Waiting to hear back from a publisher regarding my next novel. Waiting to hear back from a potential employer about a new job while equally disappointed at being dismissed from a different employment opportunity. Writing a speech for an upcoming speaking event, which always takes longer than I think it should.
I walked into Hammons Hall wearing a mask, as was required for the opportunity and privilege to hear live music. The mask was a All-American Girls Professional Baseball League mask, a gift from a friend who read my book and sent it to me as a thank you. I thought it was a fitting mask to wear to hear her play.
I picked up a program and read through the songs.
Finlandia, Op. 26 by Jean Sibelius.
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 also by Sibelius.
I didn’t recognize the music by name. I looked through the listing of the members of the orchestra and found the names of those I knew. A first violin. A cellist. Horn and trombone players.
The lights dimmed and the performance began.
Writing about music is about as hard as trying to be an online musician. Music isn’t supposed to be evaluated or judged or critiqued. Music isn’t supposed to be an exercise in exposition. Music is supposed to be experienced.
Music, just like writing stories, just like creating art, is play.
Musicians do the work of practice so they can bring joy into the world through their time of play.
Melodies and harmonies stir our emotions. Bass lines affect heart rhythms. Our imaginations are captured and we are transported to places we never knew existed.
Music helps us express what we are feeling when words can’t suffice.
I loved watching Dr. Kelts, the conductor, dance and invite the musicians into the pieces.
I loved watching the body language of all the musicians as they played not just with arms and hands, but the entirety of their being. Swaying. Tapping feet. Dancing in their seats.
And I loved watching the percussionist play the triangle and the cymbals, the only instruments I feel I could actually play in a symphony performance, though I would probably play with too much gusto for the conductor’s liking.
When the performance ended, I didn’t want to move. The worries that weighed me down were put in proper perspective. Music did what music always does, if we allow it, if we trust it. Music brings us fully into this moment, allowing us the gift of being, of breathing, of putting all the pieces of our lives back together again.
The next performance is Sunday, October 24. By then, I’ll be in a new house, the speech will be completed, and, hopefully, my next novel will be under contract.
Thank you, Missouri State University Symphony Orchestra, for doing the hard work these past two years and helping me hear wonder, heal worries, and leave with a heart filled with hope.