The Superstorm

All my life I have loved and been fascinated by the sounds of nature. Beethoven said, “You ask me where I get my ideas—I pluck them from the air–the trees, the rocks, the brooks, they speak to me, and the sounds swirl and rage above my head until I have set them down on paper.”

Still, there is nothing, even in Beethoven’s greatest oeuvre, not in the storm within the Pastorale Symphony, not in the Tempest Sonata,( though maybe in the intro to the last movement of the Ninth,) that comes close to the forces that swirled above our heads and home in the storm called Sandy, end of October 2012. (Perhaps had Beethoven not become deaf, he might, if anyone might, have come closer.) Those sounds, I could not love.

I had my two beautiful pianos swathed in tarpaulins lest the windows had been blown out, and I felt like crawling underneath the resulting tent-like shelter, like I did when I was a child; the underside of the piano then, yielded beautiful resonating vibrations that  excited me; now it would be to escape the frightful sounds. This seemed to be the work of a wrathful God,– a warning to mankind?

“Why don’t you play the piano?” my husband asked me. I could not. I could not have found solace in music–even in Beethoven, the supreme expressor of Wrath or Hope; or even in Bach–the great creator of Order out of Chaos; or Mozart, straight from Heaven (Heaven? what was that?) and anyone else was rendered trivial.

This pianist’s landscape , once serene and in tune with the natural world, was writhing and ruptured–monumental trees smashed to smithereens, and brambles of branches laced and snarled with hideous snapping wires.

If I had no wish to play, I had every wish to resume my teaching, which has, more and more, become an indispensable and vital part of my life. Income entirely aside, (if not entirely irrelevant), the warmth of sharing life, as it is interwoven and reflected in music, was, however, echoed in the two books that gave me comfort in the hours of light…

“Beethoven Remembered”, is a compilation of the composer’s own jottings and letters, as gathered by his best friend, Franz Wegeler, and his student, Ferdnand Ries, has been available in English only relatively recently (1987), and given to me by a wonderful former student when he moved away.

The other book is Leon Fleisher’s memoir, “My Nine Lives”–amusing, inspiring, and entirely HUMAN…so much so, that I ended in writing him a letter, and mailing it , unlike the one I once wrote to Beethoven! Those of us who are blessed (or cursed) with artistic natures, are stuck with our more reactive, neurotic, spontaneous responses, and our heightened despair and impotence to make our lives whole again.

Instead of recounting some of the heartbreaking stories and miseries that were all around us on Long Island and in the Northeast, I will say that in particular, one of my favorite people and students, and a wonderful pianist, Edward, and his wife Ellen, lost most of the interior of their house near the water, and have subsequently moved their grand piano into storage. When he told me he “had lost so much music with your markings and fingerings”, and the lengths he went to to rescue the notebooks into which I have scribbled whatever insights and suggestions about the music we work on, it touched me more than anything…I will help him to replace lost music with whatever extra copies I have in my library, and gladly teach him senza ricompensa for however long it takes for him to regain his equilibrium.

One thought on “The Superstorm

  1. Insomnia has struck so I read your blog and it left me with many thoughts.

    Regaining equilibrium – the way you ended your blog resonated a great deal within me. After any type of trauma, that’s what we as humans basically try to do, however long it may take. Forces beyond our control shake us, topple us down, stripping us down to our bare roots, and we’re left to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all. The resulting frustration about our own human limitations lingers. Man vs. The Forces of Nature, a never-ending, losing battle.

    Being as sensitive as I am to the weather, I know this struggle all too well. I have a love-hate relationship with Mother Nature, for she has taken my breath away on so many positive and negative levels, both figuratively and literally. But what I fear is not so much the sounds, but the invisible forces that tear me down unexpectedly. While I revel in rain storms and adore the visage and silence of a snowfall, my lungs scream for Mother Nature’s mercy. I recall what the Romantics term “the sublime” – a dual existence of both awe and fear when confronted with Nature. Quite apropos!

    It broke my heart to hear of what happened to Ed and Ellen, and even more so to see the images of the drowned piano music that could not be salvaged. Your fingerings and insightful notations are only but a distant memory. Our brain needs the written word as a catalyst to spark what has been vaguely stored in its most minute crevices. But when that is gone and inaccessible, then what?

    The weekend before Sandy hit, one of my biggest concerns was having the tree in our front yard come crashing through my bedroom window. I actually had a nightmare that the tree fell through the window and crushed me, falling directly on my chest, with a feeling identical to what asthma had done to me for a month. Aside from this fear, I had another. Underneath my window is where I store all of my journals, my most precious memories that I leaf through every so often in moments of self-reflection and questioning. If they were washed away, I’d be devastated. I’d have to rely on only what remains in my memory. But part of me wondered, would that be so bad? One voice within me said yes, while another said no.

    If there is anything positive to take from Sandy, I have discovered this: all too often we, as a society, rely on things rather than the experience, constantly trying to preserve a moment with a snapshot, a written thought, a film, recorded document. We also have become dependent on mediums of communication and preservation, especially technology.

    What hit me most after Sandy was a news piece about how children had been affected, and, ironically, they experienced a positive change. With power eliminated from their world, so was technology – the Internet, iPods and phones they cling to for existence were suddenly dead to them. It was heartwarming, and filled me with hope, to hear that many children were stretching their imagination, spending more time outside and more quality time with their families. One little girl discovered an affinity for playing card games and writing. Another said being with her family was “not so bad” and she enjoyed it!

    The fact of the matter is we are living in an age of disconnection. You mention a “wrathful God” in your blog. Who wouldn’t be enraged with what the youth of our society has become? My hope is that if anything positive came from Sandy, it’s an element of going back to truly experiencing life, especially through human connection. The way people are reaching out to others, hearing the stories, starting to feel thankful for what truly matters in life – that is what we need in the world. And while I’m an idealist, do I realistically think our youth will fully change? Not all of them – but maybe some, and that news piece proved that some have indeed changed. Additionally, I have to say that as a Facebook user who notices quite a number of superficial postings, when Sandy hit and power was returned, the superficiality disappeared. No longer were people completely self-absorbed. Chatter on the Internet was, at least from what I saw, quite minimal. Concern for others and more of an involvement and awareness of the world around them seemed to be the majority of what I encountered.

    A personal moment of irony: the class I was taking before I was sent to the hospital was in Long Beach. To get there, I drove the Ocean Parkway, a parkway I honestly have never taken to a town I have never visited before the class. After Sandy, I saw, through pictures taken from above, the destruction of Ocean Parkway, the destruction of Long Beach, the flooding of Jones Beach theatre, where I did experience a concert or two. It made me wonder – you never know what you have until it’s gone. Had I not signed up for that class, I would have never gone to Long Beach or traveled my peaceful drive down Ocean Parkway. How long will it be to restore everything? How long until Jones Beach Theatre becomes whole? In my collefe years, I was also lucky enough to spend a summer in Wildwood, NJ with friends, my first experience at the Jersey Shore. How many of these experiences do we take for granted?!? One day you wake up to find you missed your opportunity to live because everything is gone. I ran into my principal yesterday, who was concerned about me during my extended absence, and he stated, “We take breathing for granted”. It’s the absolute truth and related to everything that happened in Sandy – how many things do we take for granted in our lives that seem convenient, effortless, perennial? How many people, places, and things do we just assume will be there tomorrow? What if we wake up one day and they’re not? Are we prepared for that as a human race, especially in this day and age?

    While I always try to look at the silver lining, and was truly lucky to not be negatively affected by Sandy, I do not want to diminish the horror that many individuals have and are currently going through, and my heart truly goes out to all of the victims, many I know personally. I do, however, try to be a firm believer in the fact that everything does happen for a reason. The reason may not necessarily be meant for you, but there is always a reason. Sometimes, we take a hit for the greater good. We just don’t know it yet…

    – Christina

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