On a Naturally Lit Basement Corner

August 6, 2008
In the height of the afternoon, rays of brilliant sunlight come shining through the glass panes of the door, each ray refracting into the crisp and cool air past the windows. Inside, a piano bench with chipped paint sits by a flimsy music stand made out of metal of questionable strength, resting its three tired legs on the uneven tile beneath it. The piano bench, long separated from its accompanying piano, quietly basks in the radiant glow of the spring afternoon. This corner, lit only by natural light, is the only illuminated section of the relatively dark basement, which otherwise is usually blanketed in darkness. A rectangle of light reflects off of the floor in the distorted shape of the windows. The sounds of muffled distant bird calls drift in and out of the basement, where time seems to stand still.

I walk down the steep flight of stairs with a cloth violin case in one hand and a book of pieces in the other, quickly moving towards the bright corner of the basement. The streaming light from outside breathes a consciousness into the music that comes from the vibrating strings and wooden body, giving the music a life of its own. At the same time, I begin to lose feelings of self-consciousness. From its very first note, the violin engages in a centuries-old dance, the metallic strings following the lead of the lightweight bow. This intricate dance is well-rehearsed; I have practiced this song countless times before, and playing it now feels completely natural, requiring little conscious effort. I do not feel like I am controlling the violin anymore; it seems to be controlling me in performing the piece smoothly and naturally.

From the instrument, sound waves emanate through the air, creating tiny invisible ripples of sound made of varying frequencies and wavelengths that, incredibly, combine to form a magnificent Mendelssohn piece. Each enriching note seems to embody the feelings of optimism and hope that come with the delightful sensory celebration that is the act of observing the spring season in all of its full glory. In my mind, I hear the lyrical chirping of the birds, see the widespread blooming of plant life, and experience the reemergence of life following the bleakness of winter. I begin to speculate as to whether Mendelssohn himself had sat indoors on a remarkably sunny day in early spring, inspired to compose his immortal “Spring Song,” but these thoughts soon give way to astonishment. The simple realization that I am playing a song written about two hundred years ago dawns on me as I begin to recognize the implications of such a fact. Like a single ray of light from a distant sun, the composition has lived on after the death of its originator, transcending mortality itself.

At this very moment, the bright, vibrant music coming from my violin is as alive as any breathing creature on the planet, having a consciousness of its own. This music is a welcomed companion from the past, lying dormant in the form of paper since its inception, actualized by the hopes and relentlessness of aspiring musicians. Mendelssohn’s music has transcended both space and time, existing as an extension of his own life and memories indefinitely into the future; as long as aspiring musicians exist in this world, so will his works, along with the works of his peers within the realm of classical music. Just as light paradoxically exhibits properties of waves and of particles, Mendelssohn has died, yet remains alive through the expression of his musical compositions. Perhaps the liveliness of classical music, that distinctive quality that makes a musical piece seem to be almost become a living entity when performed, is the spirit of the composer, living on through its manifestation in his or her works, achieving, in effect, a sort of immortality. Mendelssohn’s works help to perpetuate the passion for music he once felt in musicians of future generations, a passion that I feel at this moment, enveloping my body and my mind. The feelings of immeasurable hope and optimism symbolized by the emergence of spring, once experienced by the German composer, flow from my fingertips on my left hand, crafting the pitch of each resonant note, to my fingertips on my right hand, controlling the broad strokes of the bow. The emotions of the composer alone guide my performance; I am essentially a vessel through which Mendelssohn expresses the sensations he had felt so long ago.

I carefully finish playing the piece with two final pizzicato chords. My eyes dart around in my motionless body, frozen in a playing position, and I find myself in a small basement corner, seated on a piano bench with chipping paint. Pools of light appear on the floor around me. I slowly lower my instrument and begin to place my violin and bow back into a cloth case, which rests contentedly on the ground near the old piano bench. I close my music book and remove it from its flimsy stand, getting up to leave the corner and go back upstairs to the pressures that come with life, briefly consoled by the possibility that someday, some creation of my own, musical or otherwise, may transcend the limits of my own human mortality and live on to pierce through window panes and illuminate everything in its path. I close the door behind me, and carefully ascend the stairs that I had gone down just moments before. Time stands still in that bright basement corner.

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