There’s an Arthur Rubinstein recording that accompanies my lifemain
Anthea Kreston’s weekly diary:
Why do I listen to music? As musicians, we study music, practice, perform, teach, and on the rare occasion that we have a moment to spare, we attend live musical events. What function, then, does pre-recorded music fulfill? What’s it for? Does it remind us of a concert or a performer we care for? A composer whose message resonates with our own lives? Does it help us process personal events – traumas or triumphs? I suspect all of these and more. Do you have one recording that you return to, time and again? I do. It’s Arthur Rubinstein performing the Schubert b flat sonata, D960.
I‘m not a pianist. I can’t even get my two hands to concentrate long enough to play one of my 7 year old daughter’s weekly piano assignments. And forget about all that foot business. I’m not sure if I first started to love that Schubert because, not only does it transport me almost immediately into an alternate reality, it also represents the actual physical magic of 10 short fingers and 88 places, all those strings and mechanics and sound that is like liquid or memory or sadness or fortitude.
It has come with me, from a tape in my first Walkman, into the dashboard of my first car (a rusted Buick Skylark), on CD and into my iPod, now bluetoothed into whichever earbuds or speakers are in the vicinity. It helped me transition from teenager to adult, came with me to college and on a solo car trip from Cleveland to Portland, Oregon. It helped me collapse when my best friend was committed to a mental institution, I shared it with the first man I fell in love with, and I have given birth to it. And now it is in my ears as I drive between Prague and Berlin, processing and categorizing the last chunk of my life.
It’s like nothing happens, that one note repeating in the left hand – gentle but persistent – the right hand noble and true, yet unable to to travel anywhere but along the same path it has been on for as long as your world has existed. Memory and future melded into one with an occasional grumble which reminds us of our own inevitable deaths – gentle or normal or disturbing deaths which naturally follow lives which have been exactly like all of the other lives. I mean the lives that have beginnings, middles and ends, regardless of how long or short those parts are.
I decided to give birth like an animal, I suppose. In which I mean, I used the wisdom of women who had helped other women give birth like animals, trusting the body to do what it knows how to do, what all women have known how to do forever. To give birth to us. If you, yourself haven’t given birth, you have been given birth to, by someone who spent 9 months growing you and then did something that was, like the Schubert, both inevitable and extraordinary. Personal and universal. In that birthing center, with my midwife, doula, and Jason, there was no sound other than that Schubert. The length of phrase perfectly accompanied me through those long contractions. It wasn’t painful – I decided it wasn’t. I decided it was me trying to open a door at the same time that someone on the other side was also trying to open the door. Jason walked with me, or supported me while I swayed. At one point, the midwife began to suggest something to me, as the doula touched her on the shoulder. She said – “let her do it – she doesn’t need our help”. Eventually a large bath was filled with water, and as I slipped in, and began to push, the baby came out, floating up within a perfectly intact amniotic sac. My water had never broken, and as we watched, the baby floated in the tub, perfectly, calmly and happily encased and yet still attached to me by umbilical cord. All it needed it was still receiving through that cord, into its little bubble world. As I reached down to grasp the baby, the sac melted away, and my second daughter came to be nestled against my chest.
All the while, no words had been spoken, and as Mirabai took her first gulps of breath, the Schubert D960 continued to envelop us in its own magical sac. My doula, an older Dutch woman, told me that a birth inside the Caul is extremely rare, and signifies a person with the ability to see the future. In Ancient cultures, men would carry the Caul for protection into battle or on ships; feared those born within for their witchcraft or for the power to see ghosts.
We are always happy to have our own little soothsayer in the family – the first time we noticed it was when, at the age of 2, Mirabai correctly guessed the answers to the board game Clue – Ms. Plum in the Library with the Candlestick – to the surprise of the table of adults holding their well-scribbled crib sheets. From that moment on, she is always first choice on any board-game team.
I guess, what the Schubert does for me, is that it takes whatever situation I happen to find myself in, and simply moves it slightly to the right or to the left. I am still inside the same bubble, but I just look out of it in a different direction, and all of a sudden everything is the same and also different. Like life happens to you no matter what, and also that you can change your situation simply by looking a different direction. I was a child, and then an adult – I was one person, then two – I played in a quartet, then I…..