Just because you can’t hear doesn’t mean you can’t write some of the best, most influential, remarkable, impressive and ageless music of all time for orchestras, sonata, soloist, concerto, or opera.
History has it that by his 20s, Ludwig van Beethoven began to lose his hearing. He was very gifted musically, but imagine painting without sight.
He was not then, or thereafter, a person known for his social graces. Some say he was at any given time a miscreant. Later in life, he was arrested because the police thought he was a vagrant. It then took considerable persuasion and testaments for the officials actually to believe he was the great composer, the renown, incomparable Beethoven — release him!
A man misunderstood
As a younger man — while in the countryside — Mr. Beethoven wrote what is known as his Heiligenstadt Testament. Many think of it as a prolonged suicide note. One reason I do not think so is because at that time he also was writing his second symphony.
Portions of it are so alive, so uplifting, and so wonderfully melodic. This very moving, embracing sound from someone who wanted to end it all? This symphony and all its moving parts from someone who could barely hear?
Let me ask: “God, is this some kind of tale you have woven to lead us to faith beyond any doubt? Possibly the greatest composer of all time, but he could not hear? Is this a message to us?”
Beethoven could not escape his petulant personality, social upheavals, inability to have a long-term relationship with a woman, even one who may have been his “immortal beloved.” He frustrated so many.
Yet his music is undeniably profound. Ground-breaking. Heart-swelling. Head-filling. For so many, it is overwhelming with sounds of unbridled hope, spirit and affirmation.
But how did he know what it sounded like?
How could he write so many pieces for so many instruments, so many moods and tempos, so much of the unmistakable Beethoven confluence of intensity and light, of grace and seething intensity? How?
Had he not gone deaf, would he have written what he did?
Is it that things have a funny way of working out? In fact, just who was he?
I don’t really know if he was small, looked like a Spaniard, had a large forehead, or even really had all that bushy hair often associated with him. I do know that he would not make a good stand-up comedian. He would not do well with etiquette. He would not make an effective politician. Stark truth and uncensored tongue were his forte.
Sartorial splendor was typical among many of his patrons, but Beethoven himself not at all. I have read on occasion that people even had to trick him into changing his clothes.
Were he here, now
Would he know that recently in downtown Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Philharmonic alternated with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela — conducted by the passionate Gustavo Dudamel — to ultimately play all nine of his symphonies?
Would he even have been able to imagine it?
Would he recognize the size and kind of orchestras today? Would the sound engage him, or bring him to a complete standstill? Would his eyes swell with tears at the presentation today of his arduous and exhausting work? But … could he even hear it?
Indeed, if he were
I have thought if he were here, if I were to accompany him to the Disney Concert Hall, that I would try to bring him there in a horse-drawn carriage. Or to walk, as opposed to riding in a car, bus, taxi or some other contraption he would not recognize.
Once there, what would maestro Gustavo Dudamel say to the composer of so much music he has worshiped and absorbed, learned and fretted about, to try to bring fully to life, to try to bring amazingly to sound, to try to scratch at least the surface of the sky such that it may open to the heavens?
What would any of us say if we could have a conversation with Ludwig? Would we have to use sign language, and would he stare at us incredulously, as if to say, “What’s wrong with you?”
A religious experience
I attended several of the concerts at the Disney Concert Hall during this recent tribute to Mr. Beethoven. I saw an occasional person in the audience who had eyes closed. I saw their hands folded as if in prayer, pressed lightly against their nose. And I saw them talking without sound. I wanted to ask if it was conversation he or she was having with Beethoven.
What I noticed is that at the end of each symphony, these people were among the first standing, applauding, showing great appreciation for the skill and impressiveness of the orchestra, of Mr. Dudamel, of the performance, of the music, of the place, of this moment and event.
A strange encounter
Downtown is a place of terrible contrasts. Not far from the astounding buildings, so tall and formidable, is Skid Row. It is not unusual in any given block to find someone scrawled on the sidewalk, wrapped partly in newspaper, sleeping or passed out.
Perhaps we should encourage politicians to arrange playing Beethoven’s music throughout places like Skid Row. I think this is part of what Mr. Dudamel seeks to accomplish through music, to spread it like a salve, a lotion, even holy water.
A man came up to me outside the concert. He was tattered, unkempt.
His appearance caused me instantaneous concern. He had a stick over his shoulder, at the end of which was a large scarf in which were wrapped various items — his belongings, I assumed. But he surprised me.
He said, “Don’t be concerned. … I am on my way to see Beethoven. In the scarf, I have several books written about him, and some clothes.”
That’s all he said he wanted. He asked to know how he has been perceived, and of all things asked to be able to change his clothes. He told me he then would go back to composing. He said, he really did say to me, ‘If I don’t keep composing, then I hear it only in my head. I have to compose in order to let it out, all that sound that you will hear, that I never will, but that I have heard long before you ever will. I don’t have any choice and never did.’
“Well, I am on my way to see him. You can come with me if you want, but we have to pass through Skid Row. … Don’t tell anyone, but I suspect we might even find him there, or nearby. Unless he went to the countryside … then we might have to find him there, among the trees and meadows.”
Ron Sokol is a lifelong Dodger fan who lives with his family in the South Bay. He writes the weekly Ask the Lawyer column in the Daily Breeze.
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Every summer, for many years, I have spent a week counseling elementary school girls at a church camp alongside my pal Molly. Each year, the most beautiful game of the entire summer goes into full swing, the most glorious invention ever: Counselor Hide and Seek. A full 15+ minutes of counselors and staff getting to literally run away from their campers and have no responsibility for them whatsoever.
It's pretty spectacular, but I will give you one tip: Do not hide underneath a bridge. There will be hornet nests and it is not pretty.
The one hiding spot that never fails to impress and ensure virtually no incidence of being discovered is on top of a building.
Yes, a roof.
I cannot reveal which roof it is that provides the most spectacular hiding spot,
(Actually I shouldn't even reveal that it is a roof, nor should I provide the accompanying picture...here's to hoping none of the campers get ahold of this...)
But it really exists. I promise.
Hiding is fun, especially when it is from a mob of campers.
On another note, at the tail end of my time living at home, I discovered an amazing song while listening to Pandora. Steffany Gretzinger sung words of truth straight into my ears in a way that seemed as if they were coming straight from the Father. "Out of Hiding" seemed as if it had been written just for me.
Hide and seek, "Out of Hiding." I'm sensing a theme to the list of "Things That Laura Enjoys."
As people (yes, not just me,) we spend a lot of energy deciding whether or not to hide things about us. We think about what encompasses who we are and from there we decide what is safe to put out in the open and what is better off hidden inside of us. Surely people don't want to see our "dirty laundry;" surely they can't handle all of our emotions and struggles. So we go into hiding, at least partially.
You know, for our own safety.
Hiding things, showing only the most acceptable highlights of our life has become a remarkable pastime, especially in the social media age. I think these highlight reels existed before social media (in no way would I blame it all on one thing,) I just think it is more pronounced and obvious now, yes?
But hiding? Hiding is based in fear, is it not? We go into hiding, we hide things from people out of fear of what would happen if they were to be found. We are afraid of how we will be perceived if our hiding is discovered and even more afraid of the perception of what we have been hiding.
We hide things because we don't want them to be discovered,
Or maybe not.
Playing hide and seek as a child tells us all about this. The "hider" hides from the "seeker" in full expectation that they will once again be found. It's really fun to find a good hiding spot, but it is no fun when the seeker gives up because your hiding spot is too good.
In playing hide and seek we actually WANT to be found.
So maybe we hide things in our lives because we so desperately want them to be found and embraced. We want the seeker to find us and all of our insides and hold us closely and remark how glad they are that they have found us. How glad they are to see who we are.
We want to be seen,
Not to hide.
The amazing Glennon Doyle Melton reminds us that in our hiding we may actually be hurting those around us more than helping anybody.
"Friend, we need you. The world has suffered while you've been hiding. You are already forgiven. You are loved. All there is left to do is to step into your life."
Come out of hiding.
Come out of hiding for those around you, and come out of hiding for yourself.
(Unless you are hiding from campers, of course.)
You are safe.
You aren't alone.
Thanks be to God.