Stress rules in our lives right now: financial stress, security stress — how safe are we now? — health stresses, familial stresses. Politicians do nothing to alleviate these stresses but just add to them, especially the White House: there is a special stress watching their incompetence and narcissism and abdication of responsibility when they need to be leading and governing effectively. It’s painful to hear from friends in other countries who cannot understand how the president was elected when he was so clearly unqualified and a buffoon.
I returned to my fulltime job this past week and added a layer of stress I’d forgotten. While I know I am fortunate to have my job, my gratitude really doesn’t touch the stress that goes with returning after a four-month absence. What could go wrong, went wrong, especially with technology. I found myself seeking ways to relax or take my mind off what I had encountered in the office. By the way, I do love my job, and it was wonderful to see my co-workers and boss again, but as with anything, there are good days and bad days.
Last time, I wrote about the first couple of months of lockdown in my life and the music I listened to based on my primary emotions at the time. This time, I want to write about coming out of that black hole of emotion at the beginning of the lockdown and being able to see some hope and the beginnings of a new normal way of life. This includes the return to work, riding public transit morning and evening, wearing a face mask everywhere (not as a fashion accessory!), and seeing people I hadn’t seen in months.
If Bach is my go to composer for soothing, calming music, Beethoven is my go to for energy. Even his Andantes possess a driving force. The past few months I’ve been drawn to his extroverted and inspiring music like the Ninth Symphony and the Emperor Piano Concerto. But the one piece that continues to pop into my mind when I’ve needed a lift and a smile is his First Piano Concerto, especially the final movement. He demonstrates that he was writing jazzy classical music long before Gershwin. Listen to the whole movement but especially starting about 2:36.
Beethoven makes me laugh often. I’ve written about music humor at this blog before. Then there’s the unintended humor that I’ve been finding lately. For example, I’m not sure that Stravinsky meant that sforzando chord toward the end of his Firebird Suite to be funny, but ever since I heard some orchestra musicians talking about watching the audience as the music approaches that chord to see who jumps in his or her seat when the orchestra plays it, I have found it to be a giggler moment. I doubt very much that Beethoven intended the opening of his Fifth Symphony to be funny, but it always makes me laugh. And then there’s Dmitri Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, written immediately after the end of the Second World War, and expected to be triumphant music. This symphony always brings a smile to my face.
I’ve been drawn to what I call passionate music, whether that is in a spiritual sense or in an emotional sense. For the spiritual, I go to Anton von Bruckner’s symphonies, especially the Fourth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth. For emotional passion, Peter Tchaikovsky fills the bill, whether his ballet music or his symphonies or concertos, his music is passionate to me. I also like to listen to my “happy” music composed by Antonin Dvorak because of his lilting, dancing rhythms. I feel this music in my body and I just want to move.
As we learn to live in our new normal with the coronavirus, music can help us cope. What I would find truly unbearable is a world without music.