The Thank You Post

While not gobsmacked like the spouse, I do enjoy our satellite radio. I flip around between Broadway (mostly a disappointment unless Seth, the gayest DJ in the universe is hosting, at which point it becomes grand fun), Strobe, which features old disco tunes I’d forgotten I owned, Chill, ambient techno that calms me down, and Spirit, gospel that occasionally gets rockin’.
But my standby is Symphony. Early mornings, when I’m headed out to Washtenaw to teach, there’s often some early 20th century piece; Ballet Mecanique and Charles Ives New England Songs were on not long ago, and my trip to work featured Barber’s Medea’s Dance. Thanks to a great book (and it came from the Times 10 Best list; who knew), The Rest Is Noise, by Alex Ross, I have started to soak up as much music from the period as possible and Ross has helped me appreciate it at long last. (I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Just go buy it and read it.)
But today, I jumped in on the 2nd movement of the Beethoven 5th Piano Concerto, which I haven’t listened to in years. I love Beethoven. My favorite thing about him is that he broke pianos as he tried to force them to do things they hadn’t been asked to do up to that point. The 20th century stuff wouldn’t have been possible without him. Listening to that superbly melodic piece of work, I was still amazed at how he introduces dissonance via key changes that nobody had attempted up to then. Some people attribute the dissonance to his loss of hearing in later life, but I think this is bunk. If anyone knew exactly what he was doing, it’s Ludwig B.
I’m guessing that all musicians, when they hear a piece for their instrument, think when they hear certain parts, hmmmm, I could play that, and then, Nope, not that part. The 5th incorporates all the basics: scales, lots of trills, lots of jumps from bass note to chords in the left hand. But it’s the execution of those basics that’s so extraordinary. I can’t imagine playing the last movement without a big old grin on your face; it’s so joyful, the melody is so effortless, and yet it takes so much practicing to get it right. It must be absolutely amazing to nail it.
The bad thing about a lot of satellite is that, when there’s no d.j. on Symphony (the regular guy is Preston Trombley, who is really wonderful), you don’t know who’s playing. So I don’t know who was responsible for the concerto this morning. I can only say that it was the second thing to make my day beautiful (the first was the spouse, making me laugh). And then I sat in conference with some of my students, and, well, dammit, I just love life today. They’re young, they’re working hard, and I get to try and help them and encourage them and maybe give them a little bit better shot at communicating through the written word.
I am extraordinarily either blessed or lucky, depending on your point of view. I realize it can all disappear in a wink, and I am always amazed and a little guilty that I’ve got it so easy. I haven’t earned this. So all I can do is say thank you.
Thank you, God, for all of it. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for all the music lessons. Thank you, Beethoven, for being awesome. Thank you, Alex Ross, for a great book. Thank you, students, for showing up. Thank you, spouse and kids, for being you.
And for anyone who found this a bit too positive, go drink some Dr. Brown’s Celery Soda. That’ll learn ya. Because that stuff is nasty.

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