A voice imprinted on water – music and musicians
by Barbara Maria Rathbone
What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself.
Ludwig Van Beethoven
My earliest musical memory: the room was green and I danced on the table to Mozart, I think it was the Jupiter symphony, and in those sounds I heard the world around me took shape, all its curiousness and bewildering angles were suddenly rounded, polished and brilliant and I understood that I existed and why. It was for music like this. I was about four or five years old and this is the age of’ “why?’ – “Why am I here? What happens when you die? Why do you get old? Why is an apple green and sometimes red?” Furthermore, I was still coping with a new forming memory – time has a strange relativity when you haven’t been long on the earth. I saw photographs of myself taken the summer before and yet I thought my parents had a secret other daughter they never told me about, I could not recognise myself, but when I asked for music and my father answered my whim and played the Mozart symphony for me, I saw myself reflected back to me fully for the first time.
It sounds clichéd, pompous, even tautological, (for musicians are innately ‘musical’ of course) to be prosaic on why musicians make music but it’s more than that – we are born and not made. The enjoyment of great classical music (in the generic sense) is a gift many receive but its idiosyncratic imprint on a musician is gifted before birth – in the womb. I have often wondered if there is a sensor, a kink on the labyrinthine configurations of DNA that grafts it onto us and that all those recently fashionable theories about playing Bach and Mozart to the unborn have reasonable merit. We absorb the vibrations, sounds fall into voids and replace an impenetrable silence with energy and form; music chooses us and sets an unbroken seal upon the heart. Don’t ever ask if I would choose my strange life and the turns and detours of my fate line – this life, chose me.
To make things further complicated, I was granted an auxilary gift so that great music and the empty plains of the imagination it builds upon, resound with patterns of colour, texture and sensitivity so vibrant that sometimes I am left entirely breathless. This ‘gift’ is called synaesthesia, but I digress, for although many musicians have ‘syn’ (we are not unfamiliar with the other kind too!), the fuel of it is sound – sounds that change us every minute we live them. Every black dot on a stave would be a riculous anachronism were we not to pull it from the page and attempt to make sense of it – musical notation, such strange runes, centuries old, is something out of which we can attempt to create an eternity.
For the power to negate time is with us in every performance – music comes and goes and we fight with just enough will to win – almost, but the hunger to receive more of its secrets lends every day of a musician’s life the illusive hope of a voice on water rippling through to eternity. I tap the meniscus of this hope every day and would not exist bereft of it. I just would not exist at all.