Writing A Masterpiece
Some Of Us Were Too Busy Collecting Baseball Cards
By Michael Solomowitz
I felt deaf today. More accurately, deaf and dumb. I don’t mean that derisively. It was not a good feeling.
No, I didn’t lose my hearing. I could hear fine. But, having never learned to read music or play an instrument limited my understanding of Beethoven’s genius — like what a first-grader might feel like sitting in on a college physics course. A lot of it simply went over my head.
You see, while just about everyone in my family learned to play an instrument, my total Classical music education was limited to a book and tape recordings. I’ve also seen Amadeus and Immortal Beloved if that counts for anything. But there were no musical instruments in my deprived Brooklyn parochial school to try out, no marching band, no scales training or sight-reading instruction, no competitions, no pianos, tubas, or clarinets. Not even a kazoo. Well, maybe someone had a kazoo.
At home, my mother played her acoustic guitar and her 33-rpm vinyl records and serenaded us with Joan Baez folk songs. My brother tried teaching me the guitar when I was 12 but Bar Mitzvah lessons took precedence. Besides, I was too busy collecting baseball cards, trading two Marichals and a Mays for a Mantle and a Maris. I picked up a cello later in life then was reminded of the real reason I’d given up the guitar: calluses. And pain.
Today I watched an online lecture on Beethoven — given by a Cape Cod Conservatory teacher and musician — specifically, an analytical examination of his most popular Fifth Symphony, you know the one that begins with those four heavy notes, bum bum bum, bummmm (I wasn’t kidding about my musical literacy).
I found the lesson fascinating though I didn’t understand most of the technical elements — modulations, allegro, tempo, exposition, two-four time. These were just words to me, mostly gibberish, because I didn’t comprehend their significance.
Yet I sat through it because what I learned was that Beethoven was creating a new sound, a new way of writing music, ushering in the Romantic period. Composing a masterpiece.
And he was the one that was deaf.
The man couldn’t distinguish a bassoon from a piccolo yet was able to compose a new approach to symphonies never conceived and still lauded 200 years later. His notes went up when they should have gone down. He carried his theme throughout, exploding in the final movement, which would have had audiences today jumping out of their seats screaming “Encore.” They didn’t, we were told, only because they were too stunned by the novelty. Yet they were sold on the symphony and Ludwig was hailed a virtuoso.
Instead of music, I have writing — my laptop and a desk in my quiet corner of the world — as I attempt to compose my own masterpiece, something that will survive me. I can do that. I can escape into my stories, into my characters’ lives and find meaning there. I can’t really teach anyone how to write but I can discuss the process of creating three-dimensional characters, placing them in a situation, then sit back and watch them do their thing. Live. Fight. Fantasize. Love. Compose. Decompose. Trade baseball cards.
I can have my protagonist join an orchestra as long as I don’t get into the technical aspect of the music, you know, like trying to explain the difference between a bass and treble clef, whatever those are. I can even create someone that’s deaf and dumb because now I have a sense of what that feels like too.
Some people are born geniuses. Others achieve genius. Then there are the rest of us — mere mortals — searching for a way into the game.
Michael Solomowitz’s debut novel, BEHIND THE FOURTH WALL, published by Black Rose Writing, will be released in January 2022.