In this second week of the New Year, yet another message from the universe has come to my attention: a call to contemplate "loneliness."
Just after publishing this blog I was preparing for my new poetry class and happened first upon a poem that dealt in part with...."loneliness"!!!, and dang! No less than two hours later I was looking for a specific song by classic country singer-song writer John Prine when I ran into his "Hello In There" about old people growing lonesome just waiting for someone to say hello -- ouch!; alright-already, Universe: I got his -- and your -- message to figure this topic out; the petite antique owl Christmas ball pictured above seems to well represent today's blog topic).
The Surgeon General wrote a 2023 book on a harmful "epidemic of loneliness" in the US, and Robert Frost scared himself not by contemplating empty spaces between uninhabited stars, but with his "own desert places" (from the poem "Desert Places").
Poet Ranier Maria Rilke talks a lot about that topic in his small tome, "Letters to a Young Poet." Indeed and as many critics say, that is one key theme that runs thoughout much of his prodigious poetry.
It might be fairer to say that he was talking about "solitude", but those who slice and dice the two concepts seem to strain at making a definitive distinction; I'm not certain there is one. One can be in a crowd, even friends and family, and yet feel "lonely," and one can be in solitude and extremely involved, excited, and happy. Thus, numbers or type of company or none, seems tangential to how we feel.
I'm inclined to see the two words as closely related, with the more important matter a foundational one: how do we feel about either concept or condition? If we are not painfully upset or achingly longing or yearning for or depressed about something or someone, then perhaps that is a satisfactory state to be in.
The topic was brought to mind a month or so ago (and is the initial entry into the second draft of a new poem on which I am working; see below), when I was beyond delighted to have Rilke's book called to my attention, and then to read it. Anyone hoping to ever write her or his first poem, "should" (I don't much like that word, however...) read the book in order to get a sound conceptual start on the poetizing process.
A recent new piece I took on to learn is "October" from Tchaikovsky's suite of The Seasons. This is likely my first-ever grade nine or ten composition (just forget famed music publisher Henle's level of a six or seven, which this piece is certainly not!). Many commentators find the piece achingly and sadly "lonely," and a number call it distressing or depressing -- however, I do not find it to be so!
I hold to that position after listening to 12 presentations by top-tier concertizing pianists, as I always conclude after listening again to them. My favorite interpretation is one by Pletnev in a concert filmed early in his career. By far, it is the slowest and most contained and constrained (around six minutes long while all others seem to clock in at five-and-a-half, or a bit more) -- and to my ear, the most beautiful of all. One of my friends found it rather "boring" and I can understand his reaction, but I interpret ("frame") it differently. Perhaps because it is slow, I can better hear each note, each chord, and each phrase as they unfold?
Running a close second is Olga Schlep's interpretation; if your time is limited, I commend both artists to your attention. (A good friend who found Pletnev boring, loved the pained and exaggerated expressions on Schlep's face which I found distracting and superfluous, so I prefer to listen to her presentation without viewing it.)
If you have more time, I also recommend listening to the interpretation of Askenazy and Oberin. Oberin's interpretation is much more linear and distinct than any other to which I've listened. It has a narrower range of dynamics and nuance compared to the three pianists referenced above; still, I can distinctly hear all the notes and possible pedaling for the composition in Oberin's straight forward presentation. That makes it extremely useful to me at this early stage of learning to play the piece.
During my lesson I played the entire piece from memory; due to "first-time-for teacher" nerves, I had to consult the score and/or start over a few of the sections. However, memorization, for some reason, came easily to me in three weeks of starting to learn the piece on December 13 (my prior piano lesson focused solely on structural analysis; I would have posted yesterday's recorded performance save for the fact that I "ghosted" the very last, very important final pppp note, despite practicing it countless times! (Oberin seems to neatly avoid this possibility that Schelps skates narrowly by, by not bothering about the four "p's" and settling on one or two p's -- at least as far as my ear can tell.)
Manipulating the keys to produce pppp on The Duchess remains a bit of a mystery to me even if I intellectually know that mechanically pushing down slowly is the significant "key" to success). After playing it through for the first time, my teacher and I discussed, among other things, the overall nature of the piece, with special attention to the final three solo notes in the right hand.
Garreth iterated the general opinion that the piece is "sad" and "lonely," perhaps comparable to the final moment of death. I politely (I hope), begged to differ.
I hear and understand the piece as principally "yearning" and "wistful" but also extremely lyrical, thus, allowing for a wide range of expressiveness in interpretation (and use of the pedal
As we discussed it, and afterwards upon more reflection, I came to a deeper realization of what I meant and feel about the piece, whether or not I am in the company -- or any company at all! -- of others more qualified than me to opine. And it has nothing to do with feeling lonely or being in solitude.
When we pass away, we do so alone. In that very moment we may have others around us or not, but we are "solitare" in that unique, particular, and inevitable individual experience. (At least then we don't have to pay taxes!)
But "alone" does not to me equate with being "lonely." It does not equate with distressing or depressing, although others left behind when we die, might use those terms for themselves.
Rilke said that the feeling of being alone, that solitariness,
is the source of creativity, not rebuke or to be avoided.
His statement turns the ubiquitous proposition that death is a fearsome thing, into the opposite!
Today many (most?) people tend to rush to "connect" via social media, posting all sorts of irrelevancies about their daily lives on Facebook, Instagram, and the like (which I don't). It seems that those writing cannot tolerate being alone for even one second, and yet throughout life, we are often alone, and will be alone at our ultimate moment in life.
I view aloneness -- and when practicing or playing "October" --
as a few minutes of significant "interiority."
It is most usually not stressful to me, but the opposite: it is calming. Through the gorgeous melodies, harmonies, and interesting rhythmical changes, I can reflect more easily on my feelings and the meaning to me of the piece. Accordingly, and since I have memorized the entire piece -- though memory was slippery enough today -- I easily stepped inside myself and listened carefully to each note, each bar, each phrase, each part of the composition.
When practicing, I always sit for a few seconds after I conclude this piece, listening to the gentle fading away of the final pppp note. I've never yet had a tear roll down my face, nor felt the threat of one, not even when listening to 12 others playing the piece. However, from his clarity and directness, I have experienced some positive chills in Oberin's rendition, and also sat in rapt attention and with awe at all of the 12 interpreters to whom I have listened multiple times.
I think the University of California, Berkeley Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics Professor George Lakoff has it right. The way we "frame" (or for ourselves, think about) something, creates a specific reaction in ourselves and others. If we change the way we verbally describe something, we change the way we think about it and that can elicit a different internal, and external, response.
Politicians having some experience in office, know of what I speak and are mistresses and masters of the art of "framing." One has only to think of the example of the supreme effectiveness of our former president "framing" his factual loss of re-election in 2020 (without one shred of evidence of crime or fraud), as the opposite political party and their members "stealing the election." And he sticks to his aberrant framing in contradiction to fact and enlarges it's impact by virtue of endless repetition.
Thus, we need to think carefully about how anyone, particularly a politician, frames anything they say, and apply our independent analysis in order to decide precisely what we think. Then and only then can we decide to rest in accord with them, or exactly the opposite. This proposition applies as well to musical compositions.
I choose to frame the message and meaning of "October" as said above. That's my story -- and I'm sticking to it!
But, what do you think?
Could serendipities be reticulate,
not one-and-done but
the gathering of which
will reveal meaning in our lives?
Is there no pattern to perceive,
no sole answer to receive
in the patchwork we call “life?”
Tell me, please!
For I am drowning
in dam-burst of wants
and cutting desire to
reap the daisies that I’ve sowed
(or are they strewn,
there for the taking
and all effort was misspent
in time lent to plant my path?)
A yellow-brick-path it was,
paved with dangerous trivialities,
profuse and hypnotic materialities,
and marvelous yearnings to be free
that in proper time, came to be
through women’s wisdom and
in poem and music.
But still...and yet...
Do neurons connect at last
like valence electrons align in a special way
to metallic shards attract,
and as we turn away, we breathe
fires all powder kegs at once