Tears still sting my eyes each time I play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for the students in my Fine Arts classes, and their response is inevitable: “That is beautiful… what does it mean?”
The answer, of course, is as complex as the human experience itself. Good music becomes our traveling companion through the journey of life, giving joy and solace as we go, and growing up right along with us.
I used to wonder why my piano professors would weep as certain classical numbers were performed, but it didn’t take long after graduation for me to join them with tears of my own. Familiar music floods us with an unstoppable rush of memories– reminding us of who we were and who we’ve grown to become. It’s as if our life flashes before our eyes each time we hear the piece performed – the ups, the downs, the pleasant surprises, and the regrets. Is it any wonder that our eyes – and our hearts – brim with tears?
Exposition: The Journey Begins
At 18 years old, I wanted to conquer the world. Paying for college, however, was going to be a challenge. I knew that if I wanted to study music, a music scholarship was a non-negotiable. My piano teacher had moved out of state, however, and I had taken several years off. I was rusty, but I was determined.
I pulled out one of the first pieces that had really spoken to me as I played it: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It was so beautiful, and yet so sad. As my fingers floated over the keys, it seemed to capture the beauty of my dreams, and the fear that they would never become reality.
I played the piece for my college scholarship audition, and looked up at the judges with misty eyes. A few weeks later, I got a letter saying that they had decided to award me that music scholarship.
Development: Passing It On
During my final year of college, I traveled to people’s homes and gave private piano lessons in a desperate attempt to support myself. It was here that I met Augi, an extremely talented student who didn’t have much piano experience and couldn’t read musical notation, but who had taught himself how to play the Moonlight Sonata by listening to it on the radio and picking out the notes. I could tell that he loved the piece, and that it seemed to capture the angst of the challenge before him, but also the overwhelming power of his determination. I used the piece to teach him how to read musical notation, and told him to pour himself – body, soul, and spirit – into the piece.
At our annual recital the parents wept as Augi finished the program with his passionate performance of the Moonlight Sonata. A few months after I left my private students to begin classroom teaching, I got an e-mail from Augi saying that his performance of the piece had gotten him accepted into a local magnet school for music students. I laughed out loud, and hot tears ran down my face.
Recapitulation: Glancing Back, For a Moment
A few months ago I found myself swarmed with work as an office assistant, Fine Arts professor, and worship leader. The chapter on Music was fast approaching in my Arts Appreciation class, and I needed something to perform for the students – something familiar, that I still knew by heart.
During a quick lunch break, I sneaked into the practice rooms reserved for college students and played Beethoven’s haunting melody for the first time in several years. It felt like catching up with an old friend, as if my fingers were simply born to play this piece. A few moments later, I rushed out of the practice room wiping tears from my cheeks.
I performed the piece for my students, and as the final note faded into silence a few of them gave me a misty-eyed smile. “That is beautiful,” they said. “What does it mean?”
For a moment I was overwhelmed with powerful memories – of my own musical journey, of all that I and this little piece had been through together – and then I closed that mental book. Glancing back would not get me to where I needed to go next, and the excitement I felt over where life was taking me next overshadowed all feelings of nostalgia.
“What does it mean?” I asked with a smile. “Well, you see, only you can answer that.”