by Shannon M., 16
I stepped into my orchestra class this morning to hear the words of my conductor falling like stones one-by-one down into the pit of my stomach: “Unfortunately, our music department’s long-awaited summer Europe tour was canceled due to the pandemic.”
The hope of golden concert halls and massive audiences, strolling down the streets of Austria with my friends, instruments carried on our back. All gone, gone, gone. These glimpses of a future that I would never have taunted me.
Nevertheless, as we gathered to practice, you wrapped your arms around me, soothing the clamor in my mind and scrubbing every trace of tension from my body. That’s when the warm, grand sound of the string instruments, their calm amber tones eliciting images of clouds clearing on a sunny day, reassured me that everything would be okay.
It’s selfish of me, but all I can think of is how much I want to hold you close and never let you go. I am worried you might get replaced by technology. Computers threaten to substitute you with digital sounds, in which synthetic instruments replicate real instruments through electronic devices. It wouldn’t be the same! Just imagine: When Richard Wagner’s long-awaited new opera production of the Ring was about to debut, music fans like myself buzzed in anticipation until we heard that the “orchestra” would consist of sampled instruments played through a computer. Not a CD, not even a pre-recorded studio recording by living musicians—a computer. The emotional summons of “Ride of the Valkyries” with its vibrating strings and rousing horns can’t inspire an army if they are replaced by an algorithmic alternative.
What if people do not want or need live musicians like myself anymore, or worse, eradicate you? I need you! I love you!
You are an unrivaled storyteller. Even as the Titanic was sinking in 1912, the band continued to play “Nearer my God to Thee” until the very end, when the ship slipped below the surface. Passengers who were still on board could hold onto tranquility amid chaos because of you. There may be a million distractions, they may be a millionth of a second away from the end, but you give people peace.
Even if someone has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and forgets everything from how to tie their shoes to what their daughter’s name is, they can still remember you. Their ears will perk up and the light in their eyes will briefly return in recognition of a tune from you. Your voice transports them to a world of familiarity, where all that was once lost is not lost after all. As they navigate a world of thick fog, you are the soothing hand placed on their shoulder. You are the warm blanket wrapped around their shoulders on an icy winter day. That is the power you have.
Music, you’ve been a huge part of my life for the past thirteen years, ever since I gripped my little violin tightly in my hands and caressed you, clueless yet curious. I have string imprints on my fingertips from my time with you. It’s okay, I love you all the same. You are the one I can fall back on and still feel safe. My first staccato attempts at age five may have sounded like fragmented burps, my first pizzicato like birds pecking on wood. But you stayed with me until my spiccato imitated the whimsical flight of a hummingbird, and until my plucking of strings in a pizzicato resembled a water droplet spreading ripples in a crystal-clear pond. You created a space where I know I can’t be harmed, where the ticking of a clock, the jangle of an iPhone can’t tear my focus away from you. Music, you invented heaven, one note at a time.
Thousands of years ago, when humans lived in caves and huts, you were there, mimicking communal heartbeats through the reverberations of drums. You were always there, the hidden harmony in nature, waiting to be discovered by humans. We listened to the rhythm of waves, the sound of wind in the trees and birds, and heard you. We danced and used our voices and sang because of you. We invented instruments for you.
No matter what the genre—folk music, classical, opera, jazz, hip-hop, country, or K-pop—you are in every beat and rest. You are the bridging of communities, the unifier across the globe. People of the past and present know you deep in their unconscious.
When I visit cities, I hear the jazzy glissando of a saxophone wedged under the shadow of a giant skyscraper; the rhythmic beats from a drummer in the subway station make me feel like I am in my own world as I bounce along. You give yourself away, freely. I want you to be there in the strum of guitar chords mixed with a raspy, heartfelt singer’s voice filling my imagination under the blue sky and baking sun at the Farmers’ Market. In my quiet, lonely moments, you speak to me. No, I cannot bear to lose you to a synth.
In our future days together, I want children learning and loving how to play you as you play in them. Solos, duos, quartets, bands, ensembles, symphonies, orchestras, world music reflected in every culture. No one is more diverse than you, yet you are able to create harmony.
From schools to street corners to coffee houses to the grandest concert halls, everywhere I go, I want to have you in my life.
Sometimes, when I am alone in my room playing my violin, having a conversation with the black printed notes on the page, my fingers flying and my bow gliding across the strings, I forget myself in you, and you flow through me like water. Time stops. That gives me peace.