My Life As A Symphony

by Ted Gargiulo – Gustav Mahler said that a symphony should contain the world. And indeed, when you listen to those Olympic symphonic achievements of his, you can understand what the composer had in mind.
Would that I could write the way Mahler composed! That I might have something equally colossal with which to redeem my otherwise unexceptional existence. As if!

Despite his hectic schedule throughout the year as maestro and music director, Mahler the composer still found time to commune with his thoughts, with nature, with God. The man embraced life with a passion so profound, his heart could barely contain it. I know that, because I hear that passion in his symphonies and songs. What’s more, his music has taught me, taught all receptive listeners, to love life in transcendent ways that would not have been possible had Mahler kept that passion to himself. The forces that compelled him and other musical heavyweights to compose have, in turn, inspired and energized the writer in me, albeit on a less ambitious scale. Whether my humble body of work could come anywhere close to the thunder and majesty Mahler unleashed in the concert hall—this lover of music can only dream.
One of my life’s indulgences has been assimilating new classical recordings. My vinyl collection alone, dating back to my early teens and twenties, would have rivaled that of a small radio station. Since the advent of the CD, however, my library has grown exponentially. So have my tastes. Legitimate online music sites have opened up yet another musical galaxy for me to explore. In the last couple of years, I’ve downloaded and burned hundreds of new files without ever leaving my room. Plus, I’ve got an additional 40 gigabytes of material stored on my computer waiting to be burned, which I can listen to directly while I’m working.

I assure you, the music I collect doesn’t sit idly on my hard drive, or in a closet somewhere boring itself to death. It engages me daily on the deepest, most personal levels. Does it really matter what I listen to? You bet it matters! Certain composers, styles, genres, etc. will appeal to me more on a given day than others, depending on what phase or mood I’m going through. For me, choosing the right music is more critical than deciding what clothes to wear. (Anyone who sees the way I dress can attest to that.) But I do get around to consuming most everything I’ve got…eventually.

Music isn’t some mindless habit with me, like caffeine or cigarettes. It’s more than a cluster of sounds to fill the space between my ears. Great music has weight. It has distinction. It has a reason for being. Music is the epitome of order and perfect balance, a refuge from the mindless clamor in the world around me. Music nourishes me, renews me, quickens my senses, defines who I am and where I long to be. It exalts me, makes me excited I’m alive. Music is love. Music is power. Music is wealth.

Equally rich is the lasting fulfillment I derive from it: the way a masterpiece, once ingested, makes itself at home in my mind, takes root and continues to inspire me long after I’m done listening to it. The way it blossoms and reveals its most profound secrets, even when my mind is trained on other matters—much the way a garden bears its best fruit when no one’s observing it. For that reason, I can relish that which too few people in this age of sensory overload seem to appreciate: the freedom to abstain, to switch the player OFF and savor the silence. Because silence too, you see, is a part of the listening experience. Sure, I love music, but I’m not going to go into convulsions if it isn’t pumped into my skull 25 hours a day.

You may wonder why anyone as richly endowed as I am needs more music. Surely, I must have more than enough to last a lifetime. Well, what if I do? Who among us doesn’t have more than enough dull jobs to perform? More than enough bills to pay? More than enough obligations to meet? More than enough unreasonable situations (and people) to contend with? More than enough stress, frustration, injustice. heartache, and all manner of bland, irritating nonsense (you can fill in your own blanks) to last him several lifetimes?

Face it: life is fraught with excess. The demands it makes on us are extreme. Why, then, should a person reward himself in moderation? How can one hope to level life’s playing field if he exercises restraint in the one pleasure that satisfies him as no common earthly indulgence ever could? Oh, no! No more music for me, thank you; I’m stuffed! Mustn’t overdo it. Here, take some of this music away! Too much gratification will spoil my figure. I’ll have to put in 20 hours of overtime every week for the next 8-12 years to work it off. Yeah, let’s hear it for moderation!

It’s the same with any creative undertaking wherein someone finds purpose and fulfillment. Could be acting, sculpting, painting landscapes, designing birdhouses, playing the ukulele—whatever sets a man on fire and (hopefully) enriches those who’ve been touched by his passion. It could be a symphony struggling to be born. Or a novel demanding to be written.

Extraordinary achievements require extraordinary commitment, however unrealistic that may prove in the practical 9-5 realm. It’s crazy to think that anyone thus driven can be governed by a routine, much less placated by the insipid pleasures more “sensible” folks settle for. A person who dreams and strives outside the lines must seek his own reward…’cause no one this side of eternity is gonna provide it for him.

Conventional wisdom be damned. I say that my life, like a Mahler symphony, should contain the world. Nothing less will satisfy me. Embracing that world is easy. Making it fit inside my old one: Ah, now, there’s the rub!

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