Looking Out the Window with Beethoven
I am always a little uncomfortable with the noun ‘artist’. For me it only tells half of the story about people who paint, sculpt, write, or compose. The term 'artist' sort of slants the implication towards the making of art. In truth, most of the ‘artists’ I know (myself included) are actually wired entirely differently. They are more like coins with two inseparable sides. They are both in love with creation and in love with creating. The difference is substantial in that it points to how creations are better made, and while most people are not painters or composers all people must create a life for themselves, and so here is where one can learn a bit from artists: in order to create something (like a life) that is truly tremendous then they must not forget to fully fall in love with creation.
I grew up in Modesto, CA which is a service city to a large agricultural region called the Central Valley. It is somewhat spare culturally, but if the starry light of high art is important to you some little comets fly through from time to time. When I was around eight my mother took me to a special harpsichord concert held at the local junior college. I was my mother’s little weird artist daughter, and while she personally did not paint or write or quite understand why her daughter wasn’t acting like a normal kid she nonetheless supported me sweetly and would scour the newspapers for any kind of event that she thought I would like. It was a famous harpsichordist (I do not remember his name). It was him on stage alone sitting at his harpsichord, and it was part tutorial regarding the history of the instrument and part concert. Firstly, he was wearing a tuxedo which I thought was totally thrilling. Secondly, I had never heard a harpsichord before nor had I heard classical music live, and when that wild twang rang out I opened my mouth wide. I remember, literally, hopping around in my seat, wearing a little red velvet dress, grabbing my mom’s arm as if to say, “Isn’t this great? Isn’t this grand?”. I remember smiling and feeling like my heart was behind my teeth.
When I was sixteen I went on a high school sponsored trip to Europe. The game plan was to tour the main cities and go to the major art museums with a few art galleries in between. The great highlight was at the Tate in London. At the time there were two enormous major Rothko paintings. The paintings were given their own room. One hung across the other with a line of red vinyl benches to sit on between them. The walls were painted a very light oriental green, and the lights had been slightly dimmed. When I entered, I felt as though a bolt of electricity had ran right through me. I was at the time (and still am) a major fan of Rothko. Rothko for me feels more about god than culture. It is that deep. I sat and turned and stood. My heart raced. These paintings were talking, singing; these paintings were moving around. And yet…. As I looked around it was so strange; everyone else seemed as though a little bit dead; they looked as though their visit to the Tate was just an errand like any other. I wanted to run around and kiss everyone and push everyone to the ground.
Almost every year my husband takes me to the Boston Ballet Gala Event. It is a wonderful night and the ballet’s major fundraiser. It is an unusual performance as they do small excerpts of major pieces instead of one complete ballet. One year the finale was "Dance No.9"—the finale of In The Upper Room (choreography by Twyla Tharp, music by Philip Glass). My hands are literally jumpy as I try to explain what happened. (It is important to note that I am listening to that very piece of music on my head phones as I write.) I had never heard or seen In The Upper Room. I was in no way prepared for the spectacle. All I can say is that it is a kind of leap towards heaven but with all of humanity but with all of normality. Tears just streamed down my face as the dancers and the pit orchestra danced and played their whole souls dry. It was outrageous. When it ended—thunderously—I jumped to my feet spontaneously, helplessly. I looked over at my husband next to me, and he too had jumped to his feet, and he was cheering and shouting bravo. I then looked around and everyone, as though pulled up by strings of the Tao, had also leapt to their feet. And we all were shouting bravo and cheering deliriously. We all had tears in our eyes and knew we had just been taken on a very rare ride.
Below is a link to what I think is a truly wonderful recording of Beethoven’s "9th Choral Symphony". After I listen to the ninth I always want to find the nearest lake and charge in like a running mare. This work has a way of returning your humanity to you whole, natural. I do not like a thread of my clown suit left on my body when I am preparing to create. Beethoven’s 9th is very good at taking your clothes off. Suggestion: today or sometime soon find a hiding place and book the time. Listen to this video in its entirety (it has a really great little intro and an invaluable interview with the great Sir Georg Solti). When your mind wanders gently take it back to Beethoven. Trust this piece. Be patient. Don’t get lost. Beethoven is slowly delivering you to ecstasy.
Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.”
Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.