Thursday, March 31, 2011

Vocalise, Adagio, Jupiter and Movements

From 4th grade, I picked up my first violin. Being left-handed, I naturally wanted to play it backwards. Then can the fumblings over placing fingers on stickers and learning that Every Good Boy Does Fine. I remember the dreaded practice cards, trying to find the joy to do 15 or 30 minutes of practice in a day. Oh how it took so much energy, patience. I can only imagine the sounds that came from my room in those days.

Then came the days of blending melodies, practicing vibrato on pencils, and long practices. My freshman year, I was fortune enough to step on the stage of Carnegie Hall and play with 100 of my classmates. At that time, I could never realize (nor pronounce) the many famous people who have stepped out on that stage and expressed things that could and would never be put to words other than cres., adagio, rit., <, >, sharps and flats in black ink and faded papers.

In college, I continued to play, but in a different role. Instead of a symphony, it was an ensemble and a quartet. The delicacies of moving and breathing together. Playing first made me vulnerable, supposing to take lead but bringing everyone else out. Learned how to improvise with some friends as we played for some camps and church nights. Not just playing notes but feeling rhythms and movements.

Since then, I pick up my violin every once in a while, replaying an old contest piece by Hayden and playing alongside Lara on the piano. I am so glad a friend of our is getting some good use out of the KC String violin.

I never got too big into it as some of my classmates from high school did, interested in soccer, church, and my girlfriend at the time. I still can't tell you most of the famous pieces and who composed them or why someone decided to augment a certain note.

Vividly, I remember sitting in orchestra class in high school, rehearsing Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. This isn't a very complicated piece on paper but once you start playing it, you'll understand the complexities. I enjoyed the piece, partly because it was slow, easy to follow despite some time changes. But as we were playing through the motions, Mrs. Grover stopped us and asked, "Do you know what you are playing?" We all rolled our eyes thinking that we were going to be on one of the rants about playing in the style of the time period. But what she asked and said after changed how I saw music forever.

"What do you see when you play this piece?"

Well, not being very imaginative, I was baffled and stumped. I'm not exactly the most emotional person, preferring my cognitive walls and boundaries.

So we stopped, closed our eyes, and listen to the piece. As tears came down her eyes, she explained how he saw two married people who have had a "good" marriage but things have been rocky, not seeing each other often and being tense every time they saw each other. As the song goes on, there is an argument that beginnings. Awkward, cautious but heated. They exchange sarcastic remarks, finding fault in each other. And then the climax, a full throttle of emotion. But there is the moment of realization - they love each other. A moment that floods back all the reasons why they married each other. With a heaviness, there is a calm. A peace.

As we played after the conversation, it clicked. Even though I've never been married at that time, I felt it. I understood it. Music became an experience not an event.

Music has become a glimpse into our human frailty, or God's grace, mercy, love. Don't get me wrong, I know that classical pieces aren't necessarily "pure." But as C.S. Lewis describes in The Great Divorce of a painter who originally painted because he wanted to tell people about light but he lost sight of the purpose. But as I sit here today, listening to Rachmaninov's Vocalise I remember the beauty of God's love for us, even in the depths of our pain, our hurt, our void.

May we hear the movements of God's kingdom, not just playing our piece but experience His reality, His grace, His mercy, His love.

Songs that have meant a lot to me (check them out on
Adagio for Strings - Samuel Barber
Vocalise - Rachmaninov
String Quartet in C# minor - Beethoven
Jupiter - Holst
Fur Elise - Beethoven


  1. Aaron! Mary Grace and I enjoyed this post. We went to Grooveshark and listened to your favs. And we are still enjoying your violin. Ours is supposed to be ready 4/28. Thank you! Thank you! for helping us out. Blessings!

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