On Sunday night, I played a concert which included Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique symphony, a glorious piece of music to be in the middle of–and the middle of the orchestra is where the second violins sit. We hear all the notes, as they’re woven around us. For weeks now, I’ve heard the decending intervals of the last movement of the Pathetique playing in my head, getting lower and softer as I walk down the hallway towards my bedroom at the end of the day.
Another piece we played for the concert is a requiem for the composer’s mother, our director. It plays in my head some too–mostly three short bursts, repeated by different instruments. We have practiced playing this music for two hours a week since the end of February, long enough for the walk into the music building to take place in daylight for the last few rehearsals, although we always drive home in the dark.
Ron was out raking up last fall’s leaves in the garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon while I came and went, setting up for an event in the Writing Center and attending the final afternoon rehearsal before the concert that evening. He said it was warm in the sun. I was rushing around too fast to find out if it would feel warm to me.
This morning I woke up and read an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem, “Spring,” at Come Sit by the Hearth, and it seemed to encapsulate everything I had been too busy to hear and feel:
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
It is apparent that there is no death…and yet how the first appearance of spring makes me miss those I have lost–my father and father-in-law, my Sammy, recently-enough buried that I hate to think about the coldness of his grave in the spring rain.
The flights of stairs to the stage where we play our concerts are harder for me to ascend each year. As I awkwardly bend one knee at a time, I remember previous years when it was easier to get up those same flights.
Flowers are a distraction. Underneath, the exquisite sadness of a piece like the Pathetique seems like the only enduring truth in the world, like a little cat grave on the cold hillside.
Perhaps the “babbling and strewing flowers” has to go on long enough before we can give in to it, give ourselves entirely over to hopes of longer and warmer days, of ascending intervals in pieces we’ve rehearsed but forgotten.