Jan 20, 2007

The Beauty of Mush

I love music.

This may seem a simplistic and obvious statement, but in my life it is not. I am not deaf/Deaf. I can hear at almost normal volumes - 80% in one ear, 85% in the other. However, once that input comes in, it isn't automatically translated into information for me to act on. Its just a mush, sitting there, demanding manual processing. A simple fan can reduce me to purely lip reading. As a joke, college friends once switched the audio language on a movie from english to french for ten minutes. I didn't notice, I just thought I was hearing more poorly than usual.

Interaction with the world in an audio way is a terribly stressful procedure. At any one time, I may be devoting as much as 60% of my mind to translating sound. It is very draining.

And yet, despite that, I love music. I can't begin to understand the lyrics the first few times I listen to a song, but I love music. Music makes sense, it fits into its context. It is still mush, but it is beautiful mush. When hearing the world becomes too much work, when I want to wince whenever the next person talks, I put on headphones and relax into the music, not having to process it, just enjoying the ride. It is the most relaxing thing I can think of.

And yet, not all music is created equal. Much of what other's call music feels like nothing but noise to me. This most often occurs when a song is written to do nothing but enhance a vocalist. To me, the vocalist is just another instrument, who conveys the message of the song a tad bit more directly than the music itself. The truly good music, the stuff worth listening to, delivers its message via the entire sound. The first time I heard the Yes song "Gates of Delirium" was purely instrumental, and not even the whole thing, yet I knew exactly what it was about. As the first sounds of the slide guitar sidle into your ears, you can feel the longing for peace, the sadness and loss the narrator has experienced. By the end of the song, you stand alongside him in the hope for a less war-torn world. "The Storm" by Blackmore's Night is so well composed that listening to it conjures the feeling of raindrops hitting your head, even if you can't understand the lyrics.

So, having said that, I would like to discuss Ludvwig van Beethoven. I can sink into much of Beethoven's work for hours, given the chance. Yet, some of his pieces fail to move me. With some research, I found that these most of those pieces were written before 1794, when his hearing began to flounder.

He wrote to a friend from the old country, Karl Amenda, in 1801 "Your Beethoven is most wretched. The noblest part of my existence, my sense of hearing, is very weak." In 1802, he wrote in the Heiligenstadt Testament, "O how harshly was I repulsed by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing, and yet it was impossible for me to say to men speak louder, shout, for I am deaf. Ah how could I possibly admit such an infirmity in the one sense which should have been more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in highest perfection, a perfection such as few surely in my profession enjoy or have enjoyed." He later went on, "what a humiliation when one stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I heard nothing, such incidents brought me to the verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life".

He mourned his continuing hearing loss in a way I cannot truly understand, having been born with mine. He tried many different treatments, constantly seeking to be "fixed". He was finally considered deaf in 1806, yet between 1805 and 1815 he wrote many of his best and best known pieces, despite losing the "noblest part of his existence".

Beethoven's work in those years and years following are very whole music, not requiring the listener to be able to pick out separate parts. It is a music that resounds in the soul without any need to be processed. It is no surprise to me that he wrote it while he was losing his hearing. While he thought only of loss, he did not seem to consider the perspective on sound he gained, a valuable perspective, that it must also be beautiful in a mush.

I fear that today, at least in the developed world, so many of our Beethovens are caught for "early intervention", pushed into vocational training for things "they are more suited for" than they are interested in. I am also made sad by the modern commentary which still asserts that Beethoven fell into a joyless world of silence. With all of our society's supposed enlightenment, the masses still agree that impairment must be joyless, disability must cause despair, and that Beethoven is an inspiration for dealing well with his disability, rather than a bad example of doing so.

Mush and silence can be beautiful, too.


Connie said...

Hi Tokah,

You're my first stop in the Disability Carnival. Apparently Beethoven needed someone like you in his life to help him find a new perspective. Nice post. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Really enjoyed this post via the disability carnival. Thank you for honoring the beauty of art created by someone with a disability - and pointing out so well what his art gained, not lost.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Hoorah for a wonderful positive outlook on disability. I so agree with you ... we all know what disability means, it's time that people learn what it DOESN'T mean. Your post goes a long way in explaining that, my first visit to your blog ... have "earmarked" it! Dave Hingsburger

Penny L. Richards said...

Hi Tokah--if you want to host an edition of the Disability Blog Carnival, email me, and we'll set that up.