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2Minutes2PointBe -- Beethoven, Unintended Positives, circa 1810



My sister plays the piano like an athlete.


That's one of the highest compliments I can give a musician. Allow me to explain.


The last time we lived under the same roof -- before my sister went off to college --our house was in the land of sidewalks and cul-de-sacs of St. Louis. Like a lot of families (maybe yours?), we had a room that peanut-butter fingered, grass-stained kids like me weren't supposed to go into. It was in that front room where my sister's piano was located.


My sister played piano. For hours. Every day. I can't recall a time when my parents ever said to my sister, "Marcia, you better go practice your piano..." Never happened that I'm aware. Devotion. Dedication. Commitment. She played with obvious passion and the music filled the house. She was concert-level even in her early teens. She was (and is!) that good.


I'm not sure she knew this, but I used to sneak in to watch her practice a lot. Her piano faced the corner, so I could pull open the French doors and slide over to edge of the sofa, sit directly behind her in her blind spot.


Of course I was there to listen to her play. But I could've done that in any room in the house. Our house wasn't that big. No, I snuck in that room and sat there. To watch her play.


It was mesmerizing. It struck me even then, "She plays the piano like an athlete!" She played with power. With physicality. Her left hand often spread wide and powerful; her right hand delicate and detailed-oriented in the upper octaves. Marcia is the reason I love to watch the Richmond Symphony perform, but I rarely listen to the classical music station.


What did she play? She could (and still can!) play anything. But what seemed to really get her adrenaline flowing was when she played Tchaikovsky...or Scott Joplin's ragtime...Brahms, Bach, others...


But I remember Beethoven.


When she played Beethoven she was a running back charging through the hole. A point guard driving to the bucket. An Olympic gymnast charging diagonally on the floor exercise sticking the landing after a double-whatsie into a triple-twisting-whosie.


I heard her play. I watched her play. I felt her play. The music filled up the house to the brim.


Beethoven...He was surly. He was cantankerous. Moody as hell. But you know what else he was...deaf. He started losing his hearing in his mid-20's and it only got worse until the day he died. He couldn't make out voices in conversation. But given his charming personality, that probably didn't bother him all that much. I'm just guessing. You want him to know something? Pass him a note.


But he had his music. And an interesting thing happened: the more his hearing decreased, the more thunder and power in his compositions increased. Much to the chagrin of his neighbors below his flat, Beethoven started pounding on the keyboard so he could hear it. So he could feel it. In his chest. In his bones. Everyone in the streets knew only too well that his hearing loss didn't end his music; it changed it.


Beethoven didn't quit. He altered his style. He composed for himself. His style became even more Romantic, less Classical; more passionate, less technical. It was his way of fighting back, to not yield. To explore the Unintended Positives of an even more powerful, more emotional style than when he was in his 20's. Was he happy about his hearing loss? Of course not. And I wouldn't wish that on anyone.


But it's what he did with it that I am eternally grateful for. His pieces connected with my sister almost 200 years later. And I got to enjoy my private recitals and take in her physical, athletic style as she attacked the keyboard in a way that would've made Beethoven proud......well, proud in a surly, cantankerous way. But still......


What lessons can we take from this as we move through the 2+ year-old Pandemic? As we move through the cultural schisms? As we yearn for "normalcy?"

  1. Beethoven didn't quit...Would I have been as devoted or would I have said, "Well, I can't hear anything, I guess I can't compose music anymore"...???

  2. He experienced his compositions, feeling them in his bones more than hearing them.

  3. He adapted.

  4. WE get to experience his genius and his distinctive style because of his devotion and willingness to move forward.


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