Fragment-Bombs for the Soul

During the pandemic lockdowns, when public performances were canceled, many orchestral musicians began playing symphonies online, recorded through Zoom or something. Entire symphonies were performed this way, each performer located alone in their apartment, connecting with fellow performers in real time. Playing in their homes, with their furniture and bookcases and paintings hung on the wall, it was a fascinating way to experience symphonic performance, which is usually highly regulated by black and white tuxedo, arranged stage seating, etc.

And then, it seems, a little cottage industry sprung up, where single musicians, stuck in isolation like the rest of us, would put up just their own instrument’s section of the symphony, isolated from the rest of the symphonic scoring. It has been interesting to experience this way of listening to symphonic music, its baklava layers exposed layer-by-layer for reflection.

These single-instrument isolations (and, as here, some multi-instrument isolations) of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies appear in my newsfeed quite regularly. They shock me with a surprisingly new experience of a known symphony, with a freshness from another angle, an unfamiliar familiarity.

These brief instrument-isolations can cut right through me as much as the entire symphony itself. How do I know they are affective? Tears streaming down my face right now, even beginning in the midpoint of this very small fragment. Dabbing, dabbing, dabbing the tears with my shirtsleeve as I struggle to keep from heaving it all up on the floor.

The rest of this day is fucked – – these fragments will hang somewhere like a spiritual misting, bringing to an otherwise empty mind the clouding and the brilliance of Mahler’s existential angst and rebellion, something too maddeningly familiar to meet again except on rare occasions. Hopefully, they will have lost their power by the time evening meditation rolls around.

Doubt it.

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