The first major chill of the season has settled on Boston. Ever since high school I have struggled with neck tension and back pain at this time of year as my shoulders creep up against the cold. The weather and a long week had me tense and tired by Thursday afternoon, the day of my voice lesson. I wasn’t at the top of my game when I walked into my teacher’s studio. My larynx was creeping up, I couldn’t get on top of the pitch, and I was making the same mistakes I always make, becoming more and more annoyed with myself. I finally got warmed up enough to make music, and we began to work on repertoire.
Brahms was the order of the day, and we began Wir Wandelten, a stunning Romantic art song with a piano part that is just as beautiful as the melody (click to listen here). At one point my teacher offered the image of a pine forest as interpretive advice, suggesting the image and experience of walking over soft pine needles in green stillness.
You know what I mean? She asked me. I did. I grew up spending afternoons wandering our big backyard, through aisles of trees that define the perimeter of the lawn. I know what pine needles are like, how they feel, how they smell, what they mean.
With my brain back at my parents’ house we sang on. All Brahms is beautiful, Wir Wandelten is more so, and once again I was overwhelmed with the wonder of being part of something transcendently gorgeous. My emotional eyes teared up all the way home: I wasn’t sure if I was crying out of sadness or of happiness. Being moved is like that sometimes, inhabiting some space above happy and sad.
Occasionally in the studio or the practice room, something so magical happens that I think “this is it. This is the whole point.” But then I remember pine needles and wandering the woods and pulling my baby brother in the wagon with the tractor, and then I think that all of this is ‘it’ – every memory and imagining, every stressed out voice lesson, freezing afternoon, hectic class. On my very best days, straining to read someone else’s words and music over my pianist’s shoulder, I catch sight of the wonder of God for a second and am convinced that really none of this is ‘it’. There’s so much more waiting for us, but on this side of eternity, in every practice room, classroom, studio apartment, dusty old farmhouse – there’s more than enough shadows and reflections of ‘it’ to make the whole trip worthwhile.
Wir wandelten, wir zwei zusammen,
ich war so still und du so stille,
ich gäbe viel, um zu erfahren,
was du gedacht in jenem Fall.
Was ich gedacht, unausgesprochen verbleibe das!
Nur Eines sag' ich:
So schön war alles, was ich dachte,
so himmlisch heiter war es all'.
In meinem Haupte die Gedanken,
sie läuteten wie gold'ne Glöckchen:
so wundersüß, so wunderlieblich
ist in der Welt kein and'rer Hall.
We wandered together, the two of us,
I was so quiet and you so still,
I would give much to know
What you were thinking at that moment.
What I was thinking, let it remain unuttered!
Only one thing will I say:
So lovely was all that I thought -
So heavenly and fine was it all.
The thoughts in my head
Rang like little golden bells:
So marvellously sweet and lovely
That in the world there is no other echo.
Translation from German to English copyright © by Emily Ezust