My sight was a jumble as my eyes became the unfortunate casualty of endless minutes of persistent abuse by the hearty drops of sweat discarded by a forehead embattled against that particularly nasty breed of bodily condensation known only to humans conditioned for cold by winter’s suffocating clutches. Amidst the swirling salty panorama of my gaze, my fellow orchestra of college students melted away. Only the aggressive orange of the cheep plastic backs of their chairs remained. Was that color a surprise result of a classroom subject to a young interior designer’s disco-impaired enthusiasm or the corrupted manifestation of a thermostat subject to a cold-blooded maintenance worker’s regulation?
Whichever excited hand induced the color wave, an entire orchestra sat sweltering in the repercussions of its well-meaning touch while our spry 100-lb conductor continued, impervious to the tropical environment. With each second that our rosin competed with the triumphant humidity for command of our bows, his Alabama twang reminded me a lot less of Jerry Lee Lewis and a lot more of the devil that went down to Georgia. As his dixie survival instincts carried him happily through the rehearsal, my own lack of Darwinian fitness had me reverting to fight or flight mode. When I was forced to follow the flicks of his baton that showcased armpits free of stench, flight won. I left my fingers to stick it out on their own as my mind flew around the room, lighting on each person whose eyes were more absorbed in the page than my own. I paused as I reached the unsuspecting back of our principal violist. I was greeted by the familiarity of her too short Lee jeans, dated Nikes, and frumpy purple t-shirt and asked the usual questions: Why did she pick these clothes? Who did she want to be when she pulled them over that small, strong, little body? As these questions slipped by answerless, I found my eyes following her black hair as it slipped richly down her back, almost swallowing her completely until suddenly it came to an abrupt halt, evidence of the zealous wiles of a scissor-weilding attacker. The severity of the assault was softened by the courageous lift of her spine. Her posture was so impeccable that she gave the impression she had been raised in the very chair whose back cupped her lively shoulder blades with turtle-shell determination as she played energetically on, oblivious to its constraints that had me aching.
This was her true costume. Here, in the falsified summer haze of this room, her mundane outfit fell lazily away as she assumed the full strength of her delicate dignity, transforming those insulting chairs into nothing more than a psychedelic orange nightmare. As this quiet unassuming turtle led her swarthy pack of throaty violists forward, I realized that she had chosen to be defined by creation, not as creator.
Suddenly my own semi-conscious decision to apply a New York accent every time I used the word “very” after admiring its beauty on the lips of an enchanting second violinist during a pre-concert pizza dinner seemed horribly petty. I had been so utterly bamboozled by her immaculate eyebrows and soft-armed, regal-eyed resemblance to Sophia Loren that I’d lost myself. Rejoicing that the world was still producing women like that, I took her “very” and brought it into my life in the hopes that it would create around me the same captivating aura that surrounded her. Her business major and music minor already had her literally making circles around my own journey through college, and if it wasn’t for her own eye-twinkling passion for violin and my own soul-warming pursuit of cello I never would have been swept up into her graceful orbit.
There’s just something about musicians that is so unmatchably beautiful that I can’t resist being surrounded by them. They walk around campuses, pizza restaurants, grocery stores, amusement parks, elevators surrounded by a radiant cloud of musical preoccupation that leaves the impression that they are never quite full outside of the performance. They’re preoccupied, incomplete, secluded from their own souls. Then suddenly, if you’re lucky, you find yourself a witness to their union with their instrument, and all of those unexpressed comments from your conversation begin dripping luxuriously out of the holes in their instruments and gasping out of their shoulder blades, alerting an unconscious lip, chin, fingertip, knee waltz to provide mute accompaniment as they reveal the truth of someone’s melody (Incidentally, Valentino’s Spring 2014 Couture opening gown, “La Valse de Violetta Valéry,” inspired by the Act 1 aria finish of Verdi’s La Traviata better than I ever could.)
The rockabilly haircuts, the ill-fitting clothes, and the New York accents are only rehearsing warmups, little scales in preparation for honest spontaneity, the performance. Carried away by the art they permit themselves to revel in excessively sweet themes, disgusting interruptions, loud rests, and snarky finales that drive them to the edge of their humanity. None of the little ticks are relevant because they know what it feels to exceed imposed definitions. They are not the creators. They are the art. They are the creation.
No wonder the violist carried on so valiantly in pursuit of Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 as I sweat heartily in pursuit of the end of class. I was an amorous audience member hoping to improve my perspective; she was living sound.
As I became aware of my blinking once again, I realized we were paused. In the expanse of the pause it seems to get even hotter as a visiting violinist stalked her way to the front of the section. The particular turn of her nose inspired in me both nostalgia the way it reminded me of a childhood friend and intense annoyance the way it intentionally distorted her view of my own humble position at the back of the orchestra. I was contentedly in the middle of inconspicuously slumping and sweating in the misery of my own musical inadequacy, and she began Romanze.
She hadn’t had time to practice she said. She would still have to use the music. The conductor had twangily agreed as his flushed cheeks turned toward us to begin.
She hadn’t had time to examine the notes, she had no choice but to let them fill her imperfectly as she fumbled through the music in front of us for the first time. They rushed in so quickly that she began to overflow with the rich sweetness of the concerto’s arrival. I swooned. I fell in love with her goddamn soul. My own notes tiptoed underneath the hairs of my bow imperceptibly as I was swept up in her beauty. I forgot any judgments I had made about her ego. She made my mediocre cello glorious as she tangled it up in between her solo interjections. The orchestra breathed together in the empty space of her vibrato. There, I was no longer a persnickety creator, piecing myself together from other people’s habits. I was a partner in creation. Together, we all made Romanze. Together, we were Beethoven’s dream. In that fiery orange hell masquerading as a basement, we made heaven.