I really like what Our Girl posted yesterday about the advantages of letting your mind wander while listening to music. I do it, too–I think everybody does, though some of us are more reluctant to admit it than others. For that matter, I suspect that many, perhaps even most musicians not infrequently let their minds wander while playing music. The late Dick Wellstood, a wonderful jazz pianist who had an intellectual streak, once told Whitney Balliett in an interview that people might be surprised to know what “ordinary daylight things” he thought about while soloing (I’m quoting from memory–I loaned the book in question to a friend a few months ago, and just realized that she hadn’t returned it yet).
I felt a prick in my memory as I read Our Girl’s posting, and suddenly it came to me that E.M. Forster had written something on this very subject. I couldn’t quite recall what or where, but thirty seconds’ worth of Googling led me to the fifth chapter of Howards End, in which Forster describes Helen Schlegel’s thoughts as she listens to a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony:
For the Andante had begun–very beautiful, but bearing a family likeness to all the other beautiful Andantes that Beethoven had written, and, to Helen’s mind, rather disconnecting the heroes and shipwrecks of the first movement from the heroes and goblins of the third. She heard the tune through once, and then her attention wandered, and she gazed at the audience, or the organ, or the architecture. Much did she censure the attenuated Cupids who encircle the ceiling of the Queen’s Hall, inclining each to each with vapid gesture, and clad in sallow pantaloons, on which the October sunlight struck. “How awful to marry a man like those Cupids!” thought Helen. Here Beethoven started decorating his tune, so she heard him through once more, and then she smiled at her Cousin Frieda. But Frieda, listening to Classical Music, could not respond. Herr Liesecke, too, looked as if wild horses could not make him inattentive; there were lines across his forehead, his lips were parted, his pince-nez at right angles to his nose, and he had laid a thick, white hand on either knee. And next to her was Aunt Juley, so British, and wanting to tap. How interesting that row of people was! What diverse influences had gone to the making! Here Beethoven, after humming and hawing with great sweetness, said “Heigho,” and the Andante came to an end. Applause, and a round of “wunderschoning” and pracht volleying from the German contingent. Margaret started talking to her new young man; Helen said to her aunt: “Now comes the wonderful movement: first of all the goblins, and then a trio of elephants dancing”; and Tibby implored the company generally to look out for the transitional passage on the drum….
(Read the whole thing here. I don’t like Forster in general or Howards End in particular, but I do like this chapter.)
Now tell me something, dear OGIC. Here’s what you wrote about watching Paul Taylor the other night:
I spent most of the evening bouncing between asking myself “What does it mean?” and simply forgetting the question. Forgetting about words and language themselves, really, as something especially stunning or delicate unfolded on the stage. For me, anyway, this shuttling mode in which I seem to watch dance offers the best of both worlds. As a dance begins I inevitably find myself pushing lightly toward an interpretation, but when the work does something that exceeds or confounds the interpretation–as it continually does, if it is any good–I happily give up thinking and, as Terry says, eat it up. I love this ebb and flow of thought, the thinking and the being drawn away from thinking by fresh experience.
I couldn’t have put it better. “Forgetting about words and language themselves” is exactly what you have to do in order to experience a non-verbal art form in all its rich ambiguity. But it happens that you saw a Taylor dance, Promethean Fire, which is widely thought to make oblique but nonetheless intelligible reference to the events of 9/11. Did you see such allusions in Promethean Fire? And if so, how did they affect your response to it? Inquiring co-bloggers want to know.