Listening To Music
What a wonderful thing it is to close one eyes and listen to music. This was made very clear to me this afternoon as I attended a friend’s choral concert in which truly sublime music (Brahms and a combination of folk songs and spirituals from Israel, Japan, the United States and England) was sung sublimely.
There is something innately thrilling about listening to live voices raised in song. I have to confess though, that because of my ever-wandering and little-disciplined mind, it is sometimes difficult for me to give myself over to it, to simply listen, without doing more (or rather something else) at the same time. I am habituated to a certain narrative flow, the storyline of thoughts, worries, busy-ness, which is hard to turn off.
At this concert, however, I was blessed by the company, in the next aisle, of a woman in older middle age, with a pale braid in a loop that stuck out at the back. She came in late, with several large, full, paper bags, a small black backpack and a heavy coat, which she took off, despite the chill, and laid across the empty seats in front of me.
I have to say that I was a bit suspicious of the woman the moment the coat came off, because she was pretty clearly braless under her grey jump suit. This, perhaps unfairly, combined with the bags made me wonder for a moment whether she wasn’t homeless, except that the admission for the concert seemed a bit high for someone who only wanted a warm place to sit.
As the Brahms lieder progressed, she quickly unbraided the convex loop of braid, spreading the wavy hair over her shoulders. She took her jump suit jacket off (yes, she really was braless) —there was some decal on her long-sleeve t-shirt. It may have been a bird (as in Tweety), or I may only think that it was a bird because one of the Brahms lieder was about a “pretty bird”. She rustled quietly among the bags and took out a tupperware container of pink yogurt and carefully spooned a few bites into her mouth, then closed it again. After wiping her lips with her finger, she opened up her little black backpack, rummaged among its array of contents for a tube of skin lotion which she spread over her face. After she put that tube back, she got another little bottle of lotion, which she rubbed into her hands. I couldn’t help noticing, as I listened to another darting bit of Brahms, that the hands she rubbed with skin lotion looked well-manicured.
At this point, maybe, actually, some time before this point, I realized that I really did have to close my eyes if I was going to be able to hear the music at all.
This really did work. With eyes closed, I could just be a beat, an ear, my mind amazingly blank. Blank, that is, until I wondered what that woman was doing, and I’d just have to open my eyes for a second or two in order to check.
During a beautiful “Oh Shanandoah,” she flossed her teeth. I turned away quickly.
During a beautiful spiritual “I been ‘buked”, she reviewed post cards on her lap
This is New York. (Brooklyn actually, still New York.)
On the whole, I felt grateful. I kept my eyes closed, more or less, anxious not to be distracted by the poor woman, anxious perhaps not to be like her.
Did I mention the second helping of pink yogurt?