Facing Life’s Challenges: A Musical Guide to Dealing with It All
There aren’t web pages enough for me to catalog all of the instances in my own life where fate intervened, and I snapped defeat from the jaws of victory rather than the other way around.
I’ll share one with you.
After having caught nine innings of a baseball game, I came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth (I was much younger then, you understand) with two outs and our leftfielder standing on third, the result of two-strike curveball he’d slammed off of the centerfield wall.
I hit a line shot that caught the opposing team’s pitcher just above his sternum and bounced weakly off into the grass on the third base side of the diamond. Stunned by what was, in fact, the equivalent of a bunt, the other team’s third baseman started a late charge toward the ball. Our leftfielder ran towards the plate and the game-winning run, and I took off for first victory as good as in my grasp.
Here’s a rule of nature: catchers aren’t particularly fast runners, especially after having caught for nine innings. As first base loomed before me, almost as in a dream I saw something fluttering in the air above my head and slightly to my side. It was the baseball!
Here’s another rule: never slide headfirst into first base; scientific study has proven it to be actually a slower way of reaching the bag than simply running as fast as you can toward it. And I contributed to that body of scientific evidence, reaching the bag with my knurled fingertips scant seconds after the opposing first baseman had slammed his glove with the ball inside it right onto the top of my head. Hard!
Here’s a rule of baseball: Rule 4.09 – A run scores when a runner touches home plate before the third out is made, EXCEPT that no run can score when the third out is the result of a force play, or when the batter is put out before reaching first base.
Nothing’s Ever Easy. Life is a synonym for challenge. And that challenge is universal; we are all allergic to it. All.
I know of a man whose life was perhaps one of the most challenging ever lived. He grew up a Jew in a mostly Christian country, where all the old prejudices and hatreds toward Jews were rife.
He had to struggle to make ends meet. Some say that, when he eventually converted to Christianity, he did so to get a better paying position. No one bothered to determine if he really wasn’t only following through on a change in his beliefs.
Christopher Chaffee, Associate Professor of Music at Wright State University provides this insight into the man: As a conductor he ruled with an iron will and overturned many long-standing traditions. He banned the rowdy fan clubs of star singers, stopped performances when audience members talked, and closed and locked the doors to the hall once a performance began, leaving latecomers stranded in the lobby…was equally demanding on the musicians, and the quality of his opera productions and orchestral programs soared to new heights.
He was a composer whose own wife joined with the music critics in deriding his compositions as manufactured, out-of-date, and distraught.
And, as if that weren’t enough, his five-year-old daughter died.
His music reflects his emotional roller coaster ride, taking listeners to “heights of pleasure and happiness to the depths of despair, many times…” (Chaffee). And one of his symphonies, his second, in particular depicts musically the challenges we all face. Life-and-death challenges, religious and philosophical challenges, the challenges we face simply to stay alive and those we face when we ponder life and the sense, or insanity, of it all.
Here’s how the composer himself described his second symphony:
“It is the hero of my First Symphony whom I bear to his grave, and upon the clear recollection of whose life I gaze from a higher vantage point. At the same time, there is the great question: ‘Why hast thou lived? Why hast thou suffered? Is all this only a great and ghastly joke?’ We must solve these problems in one way or another, if we are to continue living – yes, even if we are to continue dying! He in whose life this call has once resounded must give an answer; and I give this answer in the last movement.
Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra
Friday, May 11 & Saturday, May 12 ~ 2012
Schuster Center, 8 pm
Click for Tickets
“The second…movement is a recollection – a sunny scene, from the life of this hero. It must have happened to you once – you have borne a dear friend to his grave, and then, perhaps on your way homewards, there has suddenly appeared before you the image of a long-past happiness, which now enters into your soul like a sunbeam- marred by no shadow – you can almost forget what happened! That is the second movement.
“Then, when you awaken from this nostalgic dream and must return to life’s confusion, it may easily occur that this perpetually moving, never ending, ever incomprehensible hustle and bustle of life becomes eerie to you, like the movement of dancing figures in a brightly lighted ballroom into which you must gaze out of the dark night – from so far that you do not hear the dance music any more. Life becomes senseless to you then, a ghastly apparition from which you, perhaps, recoil with a cry of disgust. This is the third movement!
“What happened to me with the last movement of the Second Symphony is simply this: I …was forced…to express my feelings and thoughts in my own words. It was at this time that…I attended…memorial services. The mood was very much in the spirit of the work I carried inside of me. At this point the choir from the organ loft intoned…Rise Again! Like Lightning this hit me: everything became clear and distinct before my soul.”
The confusion had dissipated. Everything had become clear. Finally, Gustav Mahler had understood the reason for the challenges of life and the approach for dealing with them.
On Friday, May 11 and Saturday, May 12 at 8 pm in the Schuster Center, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will present Resurrection Symphony, the final concert in this season’s Classical series. DPO Music Director Neal Gittleman will host a Take Note Talk in the Mead Theatre at 7pm and provide you with in-depth background into this glorious musical work, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, Resurrection.
Soprano Ilana Davidson and mezzo soprano Susan Platts will join Neal, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Dayton Philharmonic Chorus directed by Hank Dahlman for Mahler’s groundbreaking Second Symphony and take you on a universal, spiritual odyssey of life, death, and resurrection.
And help us all perhaps face life’s challenges.