Every now and again, something beautiful just catches your breath.
It’s Sunday evening; the kids and I were all on the lounge room floor labelling books for the start of the school year tomorrow. In the background I was playing some of my classical favourites. I love all types of music, and my long suffering neighbours can probably verify that the boys are exposed to everything from Broadway musicals to 90s grunge, to the great rock gods of the 70s and hipster acoustic remakes of everything in between.
But when I’m seeking to create peace for my spirit, I can never go past Bach. So there we were, listening to Johann’s beautiful cello suite number 3 in D major, surely his best known Aria, when one of the boys actually turned to the speakers with undisguised awe.
“What is that music?”
The fact that the music had caught his breath, caught my breath.
I put the books aside, turned up the incredible piece and took a moment to tell the boys a little bit about the man behind the music. Even though we now call his music classical, for the people of his time, Bach was radically controversial. He took the piano to technical levels that others were afraid to follow. He pushed his compositions further than anyone, always searching and finding beautiful new places to take his art. His organ pieces were so daring, they were seen as dissentious by church members.
Bach was often criticised, dropped by patrons and questioned by the public… but he was uncompromising. He backed and believed in himself despite it almost costing him his reputation. Today, of course, he is hailed as one of the greatest musical geniuses of our time; the ‘father of harmony’, as Beethoven would put it.
We listened to a few other musical mavericks. The great Czech composer, Dvorak, the devout patriot who infused his music with his Bohemian and folk heritage. He brought gypsy and even African elements into his powerful orchestral pieces, unafraid to challenge contemporary expectations. We listened to Gershwin, the great American composer, whose music became a quintessential part of New Yorks identity as it rose out of the Great Depression. Criticised for daring to blend elements of jazz unashamedly into sacred classical melodies.
Both men were later hailed for their originality and brilliance. The greats are remembered for their boldness; and the critics are always silenced by time.
As I tucked my eldest son into bed, we spoke briefly about the day that looms tomorrow- his first day of high school. I asked him how he was feeling and he admitted to being nervous. It’s a big school, he knows nobody. Has he got the right shoes? His pencil case is looking old. He doesn’t like the way I’ve cut his hair.
To make things even harder, he is part of a small group of kids going into a program of Spanish immersion. High school can be a tough gig, for these bunch of kids, it’s going to be even harder.
I put Bach’s Aria back on as he drifted off to sleep and I encouraged him to remember that being ‘different’ is not something to be afraid of. In the years ahead, being comfortable in who he is, will become his biggest asset. Kids around him will wrestle with their identities, trying to fit in, even when ‘fitting’ in sometimes goes against ‘who they are’.
Our lives are a composition of all the influences that are important to us. In order to make choices around our values, we need to know what they are. Just like the great composers, who stuck unashamedly to the music that they loved, we all have a choice to pick our tune and walk proudly to it.
There is nothing more appealing in a person, man or woman, than personal confidence. I kissed my son goodnight and told him that I wasn’t going to give him any advice for high school, other than to remember who he is, and who he wants to become… and never ever compromise on anything that asks him to be any less.