I’ve been listening to Simone Dinnerstein’s wonderful recording of some of Schubert’s Impromptus a great deal lately for they have the perfect combination of melancholy, longing and restrained passion to fit my turbulent mind and heart as I take care of my elderly mother.
Watching my mother slowly fade away is like being slowly tortured with a thousand tiny cuts, most not particularly painful at first until you look down and they seem to be everywhere. It is a cumulative pain, a dull ache that never quite leaves you.
I don’t understand any of it. I never imagined this scenario could happen to my once vibrant mother, once so full of life, so engaged in the world. Four years ago my greatest wish was for her to live when she was given a diagnosis of imminent death. And now…it still is, since although she is alive, she is not truly living. I long for the mother I used to know. I want to see that sparkle in her eyes again, the brilliant, loving gaze. The Impromptu No.3in Gb Major seems to be the soundtrack for all my powerful, conflicting emotions about this whole situation: the gentle but somewhat ominous rustling of the bass, the hauntingly hopeful repeated notes in the treble, the beautiful but dissonant high notes that seem to hang forever in the air before they resolve; fear, hope, loss, acceptance and overarching all of it, remembrance.
Music and working on music helped me through the first shock of her illness four years ago. Watching the Ball State University students I was teaching at the time rehearse Into the Woods was incredibly cathartic. I hadn’t remembered the second act being so dark, so emotionally wrenching. But then again, maybe when I had first seen it at age 18, there was no reason for it to resonate so deeply with me as nothing truly serious had yet happened to me in my young life. Suddenly facing a life without my beloved mother, of being terrifyingly alone (I had not yet met my dearest Kenneth), Sondheim’s music and lyrics stunned me, tears flowing unbidden and unchecked as I sat in my seat in the dark, empty theatre, ostensibly taking notes on the singing. Night after night I sat in those rehearsals, experiencing loss, confusion, pain, and ultimately hope through his Cinderella, the Baker’s Wife, the Baker and the Witch. “No one is alone” destroyed me and put me back together again every time I heard it. Come to think of it, I saw the revival of Sunday in the Park with George during that same period, and “Move On” had me overwhelmed with emotion as well. I needed courage and hope for the future so badly and Mr. Sondheim provided them so elegantly in that song.
Amazing and wonderful the power music has- to heal, to inspire, to commiserate, to bolster, to bring catharsis.