Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mendelssohn, Music, and Metaphor

Once upon a time I was a college music major. Even in high school, I used my lunch break and free period (when I was supposed to be editing the yearbook) to walk over to the college music building and practice piano. And I was always in the chorus, ten years straight. At one point during college, I would practice piano three hours a day whenever I could.

When I took those vocational aptitude tests they gave us repeatedly in high school, "conductor" was always near the top of the list.

Music was once very much the focus of my life, and even after I switched majors (first to elementary education and finally to English), I imagined always living a life immersed in music.

Then my life went in a rather different direction, taking me to faraway countries and times when I didn't even have access to a piano. Times when I had no one to sing with.

So, when I came back to the States, there were times when I would attend a symphony concert and find myself in tears because I felt that I had lost that part of my life and didn't know if I would ever get it back.

Years later, I am again singing with a chorus. I teach piano a little bit. And as of this past weekend, I am even taking piano lessons again.

Still, it's not as if I can really devote myself to the music the way I did before. (In fact, I still don't know how I'm going to get piano practice time in, and I haven't learned my parts for the upcoming choral concert.)

Over the past decade, while I've worked on a counseling degree, completed that degree, and worked toward a license, from time to time I've had serious moments of wondering if it wouldn't be better to toss all that and get back into music. It never was my dream to become a counselor. For a while I tried being a full time piano and Italian teacher, in fact.

But I came back to the counseling eventually, and that's where most of my time and most of my heart are given.

Well, last night, we went to hear Gil Shaham and his wife, Adele Anthony, internationally renowned violinists, perform with the Iris Chamber Orchestra in Germantown. The music was phenomenal. The performers were outstanding--and very sweet, as he kissed her after each piece! Conductor Michael Stern, son of violinist Isaac Stern, outdid himself. Perhaps I'll write more about the concert later.

One thing that "hit" me last night, though, was that I did not cry. I did not feel that I was missing out on something. I did not have that old familiar thought, "Could I have been up there if only I had . . .?"

Instead, the only really personal reflection that came to me was the memory of one of my clients three days earlier, as he noted that we were two days away from our two-year anniversary as counselor and client. He has had a particularly difficult life, and some really amazing and lovely changes have occurred in the two years we have worked together.

I tend to view my work as a counselor somewhat like being a midwife. The client is doing the really hard work; I'm just helping. More often I simply see myself as a vessel: God does the work, and He just uses me from time to time as needed.

But this man made a point of saying he saw me as having "orchestrated" things in such a way that he could make the changes he has made. He used the word repeatedly and even said he was pleased to have come up with that particular word, because he felt it was the best descriptor for how he saw my work with him.

Of course I don't orchestrate in the sense of writing a score, or even spelling out for clients what to do. But there is a sense in which counseling is like orchestrating. You have to be able to hear the music of a person's life, when often they cannot hear it. You help them practice and learn their part. You show them how their part fits with the parts others play. You help them hear the music of life as it can be played, and you teach them to listen more carefully. You help create harmony where there was only dissonance before. Or perhaps only silence.

So, last night as I closed my eyes the better to hear the Adagio movement of Mendelssohn's C minor symphony, and floated in that lovely, lilting music, I didn't feel left out. I didn't feel regret.

I realized that I am very much immersed in music, the music of people's lives. And that it is music worth listening to.

7 comments:

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

Sheila
Your life and the love you share seems to waft like a beautiful symphony into the lives of every person I know. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
Bev

Sheila said...

Beverly,
That is much too sweet and makes me think we need to spend more time together so you can see how dissonant and less-than-beautiful my own little symphony is at times! It is uncanny, though, how many of the same people we know. Like we've been singing some strange duet for the past 30 years without knowing it. --sheila

carolinagirl said...

It's amazing what we can consider when we look back to the "what if" portion of our lives. I think I've finally become comfortable with those "what if" thoughts, not to where they've disappeared altogether, but to the point that I realize that my life would be extremely different from what it is now if those "what if" moments had actuall come to life.

I remember your playing the piano. It's good that you've gotten back into the interest of doing so again.

Sheila said...

Anybody ever think what a funny word waft is? (from Bev's comment) It's used in such airy, lilting ways generally....but it rhymes with daft and laughed, and it just sounds funny to me. Something about it reminds me of ducks.

Ah, if only I had become an etymologist and could sit around all day thinking about words...

Lawrence Underwood said...

Sheila, what a wonderful analogy; and so true. Thanks.

Cindy McMillion said...

Like so many of your posts, this one is beautiful, thoughtful, and poetic. I am loving going back and reading your blog.

Cindy McMillion said...
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