Jim – 09 December, 2020 Colorado USA
Dear Giulia and Dinesh,
Sitting here this evening listening to one of my favorite pieces of music – Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto #2 – I am thinking about snow, ritual, and my life in a pandemic. Three very plain and simple subjects.
I was on a call today with one of my clients. It was snowing where he was. Coincidently, snow is predicted for us tonight. I told him I have a ritual I have faithfully practiced for probably 25 years now. In these days of uncertainty and unexpected change, ritual provides a small sense of stability for me.
The ritual begins every morning I awaken to snow. I first make a hot bowl of porridge (or oatmeal as we call it here.) I then play Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto #2 in C minor as I slowly relish my hot bowl of oats and cinnamon washed down with a mug of hot, black coffee.
It is a simple ritual, some might even consider it silly. But for some reason I now forget, it is a ritual I am faithful to. Perhaps the pure “Russian” feeling of the concerto transplants my Colorado snowstorm to some remote stone farmhouse on the outskirts of Moscow or Minsk. The oatmeal and coffee are the antidote to the cold and possible famine I would encounter in this fantasized world. I find a sense of tranquility and sympathy with the cold, the snow, the stillness and silence of a world made quiet by the secret hush of snow. And as the snow falls, flake by flake, it creates a unified blanket of pure, shimmering whiteness on the field by my house (the one in Moscow or Minsk) and the one I am sitting in right now.
Equally, at the same time, the individual notes of Vladimir Ashkenazy’s piano tenderly express the second movement of Rachmaninov’s concerto – the adagio sostenuto – note by note – (flake by flake) – creating a whole, gorgeous, musical tapestry that always makes me want to weep from its pure, poignant beauty. So many notes coming together, like the millions of flakes gently falling from my sky to interconnect into a glittering, unbroken field of white, tenderly flowing together into an unified soundscape of sublime, subtle passion.
They serve the same purpose to me. Although they are two entirely different experiences on the surface, from my perspective they interconnect on a much more profound level of transformation. The singular individuality of each snowflake joining hands to transform a 30 foot blue spruce tree into a tall ghostly figure in a pure white skirt. And all of those sharps and flats, whole notes, half notes and quarter notes, quavers and semibreves joining hands to transform individual notation of sounds into melody…soft, lilting, “heartbreakingly beautiful” melody. A melody that can transport me to the pure, unblemished field of snow somewhere in Russia, as well as here in my home in Colorado. E pluribus unum. The one is many and the many, one. Music and snow are of the same source, as am I.
My ritual of oatmeal and Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto is just one of many rituals I still indulge in. Each one of those rituals, the small, simple ones like my brief nightly prayer of gratitude to the universe for all the gifts it has given me – like snow, Rachmaninov, and you, Giulia and Dinesh – to the longer, more deliberate rituals – like my breakfast on a snowy morning accompanied by a concerto – conspire to make me who I am as an individual personality. But beneath the rituals, the dreams, needs, desires, joys and sorrows, there is still an unbroken, purely whole me. A soul co-joined with every other soul that has ever lived, is living now, and will live in some murky, distant future. Our vibration together as many into one creates the hymn of the universe, the music of the spheres.
For now, however, I will take a walk outside in the cold night air, out to that still, hushed, vast field of virgin snow just as the moon is shining overhead bathing the whole vision in cold milky light. And when I return inside, you will find me sitting in my armchair by the window looking out over that field, thinking of you two while Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata plays softly in the background…