August 21, 2011
Belgrade Lakes, Me.
Maybe something in me is trying to make up for lost time. I was not much of a weeper in the first half of my life, but since 2000 the tears just run like little streams. I remember being reduced to tears at my all boys prep school, in 7th grade– can’t remember what I’d done, but one of the teachers did something that just humiliated me in front of the other boys. I waited until class was over, then I went into the basement of the school where no one would see me, and I wept. Later, after it was clear I’d been crying, a second humiliation lay in store, as those wee young men taunted and teased me for those tears.
I don’t recall crying much in the years since then, at least not until I was in my mid-late twenties, and my father died. Still, it took the death of a parent to move me to tears then. I think I was out of practice, or still bearing some sort of internalized lesson about the things that men don’t do, and crying was one of them. Since the second half of my life began in 2000, though, it really doesn’t take much to set me off. For the most part, the tears I’ve cried have been tears of joy (I’m fortunate to say this, I know), but then, on the other hand, sometimes I get the other kid too. Like today.
This afternoon I went to a concert near my house here in rural Maine, and heard one Lloyd Arriola perform the works of Franz Liszt. It’s the bicentennial of this birth, and Arriola is preparing to debut an all-Lizst program at Carnegie Hall this fall. The concert I heard was ostensibly a dress rehearsal for that one. He did the Grand Solo de Concert, SW 175; the Fantasie und Fugue uber dem Choral “Ad now, ad salutarem undam,” SW 624/414-4; the Eroica from Twelve Transcendental Etudes, SW 151; “En reve” (my favorite), SW 208; and the Magyar Thapszodiak No. 12 in E minor.
The concert was in every way extraordinary, and if you’re in New York this fall, I heartily recommend the Carnegie Hall gig. I don’t know much about Liszt, somehow. These pieces, except for the “En reve”, were like a series of thunderstorms rolling through–so much sound rumbling over me, I felt like my ears and my heart would burst. Then there were these strangely soft, lyrical moments, like the storm blowing away and a soft rain pattering on the lake– you’d catch your breath and then, wam, the clouds burst again. Kind of amazing. I know that I have to listen to this music many more times before I will really understand what I’ve heard.
(You can hear Lloyd Arriola perform the “Fantasie und Fugue uber den Choral “Ad now, ad salutarem undam,” at his web page here; a player on that page’s far right hand side provides six of his performances, and the “Fantasie” is the last one in the column.)
But then, after the last piece, Arriola returned to the stage and said that for an encore he’d like to do a piece of Gershwin’s he’d transcribed in the style of Liszt. Well, okay, thought we in the audience, that sounds cool. And so he returned to the piano bench, and the storms broke again.
Only– through the rumbles broke the soft melody of “Someone to Watch Over Me.” As the piece went on, it became more and more lyrical, more plaintive, more vulnerable. And that, my friends, was when the tears began to roll down my cheeks.
I guess I was thinking of my mother, who died last month at the age of 94– both of my parents really. On the one hand, I was thinking about how I don’t have her to watch over me anymore, not like she used to, when she’d call me on the phone and ask me to help her do the “Jumble.” On the other hand, I know there is a place where her soul indeed is watching over me. I feel that.
After the piece was over, we all applauded. My friend Barbara Alfond, who was sitting next to me, noted my tears and understood where they came from. “When your mother is pregnant with you, she carries you all around,” she said. “And after you lose your mother, it’s like you carry her.”
I cried harder and harder. What’s funny is that there is a way I really like tears. There’s something so good about getting all of that out of your system– it’s such a physical experience; there’s nothing else like it. I wish that I had had the ease of tears, as I now have, back when I was a boy; it would have made a lot of hard passages easier to bear.
But my problem was that after a while, I couldn’t stop the tears. People were getting up to leave the concert hall, and I was still stuck in my seat. I couldn’t talk. My friend John Gawler, who was in the row behind me, patted me on the back. “Are you all right, Jenny?” he asked (John Gawler, of Gawler Family Band fame, has got to be one of the most compassionate, upbeat, loving people I know.) I nodded, yeah, I’m all right, but I still couldn’t talk. And at that point, I started feeling embarrassed. I had crossed the line from publicly feeling some very strong emotions (good) to being kind of out of control (bad).
But what can you do, but let the tears flow?
Later, John and I walked outside. I asked him about his little airplane, which he and I used to fly in while his wife Ellen gave my son Zach fiddle lessons. “Well, we won’t be flying anytime soon,” he said. “We had a storm back in June that flipped the plane over and tore off its wings.”
I dried my eyes, told him about my mom. And also shared that I was feeling more than a little sheepish about all the leaking. But then I quoted Gandalf to him. “Not all tears are an evil.” He nodded.
I headed out the door, thinking about Liszt, thinking about my parents. I remembered flying in that plane with John Gawler last summer, looking down on the lakes and the mountains of Maine. We crossed a field where a woman was tending her garden, and she looked up at us and waved. How small she seemed, how vulnerable, how full of hope!