Of Claviers and Pens, and Things That Will Not Be

THE FIRST time I heard Pachelbel’s Canon I was not far into my undergraduate program in engineering. I was wandering about the residence hall one day and happened upon an older student named Roger, who was fiddling about in a rec room with an Apple II and a bunch of little boxes tied to it by umbilicals. I forget how many of the little boxes there were, but it was an impressive setup, arrayed out on a big table. He went to the keyboard and started a program, and the boxes were transformed into a classical music ensemble. I was as mesmerized as a geek could be. “What is that?” I asked.“Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major,” he said nonchalantly, and began to talk about music, computers and software. I didn’t listen to him. I was in love with the music, and it had taken me somewhere else. For a few moments, it had lofted me out of that residence hall, off of that campus, to some other place.

The next time I heard the Canon I was driving at night, listening to public radio, and it was played by strings. If I’m not mistaken, it was originally written for strings, but no matter. I stopped my truck, and found myself sitting alone and silent, feeling as though I was slowly walking through a forest in long-ago Europe—serene, peaceful, with rays of sunlight piercing through the canopy to shine down in front of me, and guide my way.

Many years have gone by, and the other day at my daughter’s piano recital one of her friends played the Canon. I closed my eyes as I listened, and once again I felt as though I were somewhere else. Where, I cannot say. I have no idea. But, I was elsewhere. It occurred to me that I was experiencing a grand rhythm of life. For over three hundred years the Canon has been played over and over again, and to hear it is to travel through time, I realized, and perhaps this is the “elsewhere” that it takes me—not to a place but to a state of being—a state that so many have known through centuries, yet all share in some ethereal studio as though we all stand together in eternity. And coincident with this thought, it occurred to me that my life was not only a part of those hundreds of years, but was a miniature model of it, as the decades of my life came back to me, and melded into a few minutes. It was the passage of time, my childhood passing by me and into the childhood of my children and their friends, adults and children being born and dying as if to some rhythm for hundreds of years, united by mere lines and dots on paper, scribbled out once long ago in the genius of one man’s mind. It was the last thought that hit me hardest. I thought of the beauty in the mind of the composer, the ability to sense within himself a bit of art and place it onto paper, and the genius of it all. I kept my eyes closed, for I was in a crowd, and I wanted no one to notice the tears upon which my eyelids floated.

I KNOW the canonical form of music was not invented by a single person. For all I know Pachelbel’s Canon may have been worked out as much by science as by inspiration. And certainly even I can see that there has been far greater genius in music than his. I admit my understanding of things is only elementary, as a child with not much of an ear. But this is, perhaps, a blessing for me in that I do not have to worry about such things as I listen to the Canon performed. I only know that it takes me wherever it takes me, and that it is beautiful, and that all in all it is inspired of Genius—human or Otherwise. And that is what makes me weep—that Genius exists, and never dies.

But tonight’s post is not for Pachelbel. It is for those of whom we have never heard. I post tonight for all those who must have touched, at least briefly or almost, that same genius—but not quite. What a gloriously agonizing thing it must be for your soul to have a brush with genius; not one found within your own self, but as if Genius Itself walked gently by you in a forest of the night, the beauty of It a Whisper that teasingly touched the garments of your soul. You would be one of the many who have reached out in the darkness for a Genius they could smell, taste and maybe even touch—but never hold on to. My God. The beauty of such a thing. And the agony of longing it would leave behind.

I AM not learned in music. But I know enough to know that I am drawn to the fugue, and that it is therefore no coincidence that I love the Canon. Sometimes when I am alone, I feel as though I could become lost in them for ever. And so I suppose it comes as no surprise, either, that I have a wish I cannot make come true. How wondrous it would be, I have often thought, to write a composition analogous to these musical works of counterpoint, but in words rather than notes. And not just words, but expressions of human life in the light of God’s Love. It is this idea, too, that moistens my eyes; a work of melodiously and harmoniously repeating expressions of God’s love; all of the inversions and retrogrades weaving the totality of human life together into a single silver strand. The mystery of human pain and sorrow melded with ecstasy and joy. All the horror that we can invent, and all the sacrifice of love and salvation we offer one another to heal it. The question of evil’s existence, the duality of nature, and of God’s Love that overcomes evil and removes all duality. The innocence of children and the culpability of the old. The blind passion of life relished carelessly, the resentment of life fearfully wasted, and our contemptuous longing for death. Imagine each and every form of awe every human can experience, everything that goes beyond language and must be spoken in tears to make itself known. Imagine such a thing. Imagine it written in paragraphs and chapters that weave together for hundreds upon hundreds of pages and when they are done, they leave the reader stunned in silence, to weep in the knowledge that what the work has just said—is the glory that its words could not say. This is the wish I cannot make come true. It is an opus that can be written, this I know; but not penned by me. I have been touched enough to taste it, to smell it, and to feel it. I know it exists—somewhere—but it is not for me to author. For Genius has brushed by me in the night—but alas I could not cling to It. Its whisper of Love is all that I am to be allotted, and the softness of its voice is truly Glory to my soul—but, God help me, it is not enough.

I merely temper claviers, and dare to call my craft “writing.”

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