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The Cosmic Beethoven's 5th
There is an orchestra up there somewhere, an orchestra whose purpose is to serenade the divine above and terrify the mortals below. It is part of their magic, and magic they do produce. And I, nothing and nobody significant, watch them come.
It is orchestra night in the heavens, and the gods are expectant. From all corners of the universe they pack up, pick themselves up and come to this armpit of a place, just to witness the best performance in this dimension. Like the deities they are they sweep across the sky, darkening all beneath it, rumbling excitedly through space to get good seats. And I, barely an atom of a speck of this armpit of a place, drop what I’m doing and watch them come. Something big, I think vaguely. Just something big.
They’ve arrived hours early, of course – there can be absolutely no chance of being late. It’ll be Beethoven’s 5th tonight, and to miss it would be murder to the cultural part of their minds. Each being sees others he has not seen in decades or centuries or millennia, and they take the time to reacquaint themselves. They move, they shuffle, they jump over and wriggle under each other, each trying to make his way through the crowd towards a familiar face. And I, a blind mortal, a small-minded speck who cannot recognize the divine for what they are, marvel at the designs they paint in the sky, the twists and turns they give themselves.
It’s still hours before the orchestra shows any sign of beginning. They’ve been here the entire time, of course – any good performer must, in order to get a sense of its audience. They hide below and above and among their patrons, mingling with them and watching them and adding to the color of the evening. Having observed and recorded far into the night, they finally – finally – pick up their instruments and tune one final time. And the gods, being divine and with divine senses, hear them. As the tuneless testing of strings and absentminded banging on percussion instruments fills their ears, they become excited, rumbling and moving and pushing to find seats. And I, the speck, start to become nervous. I run inside my pathetic little shelter and turn to those who call themselves experts on the doings of the divine. Expect something tonight, they say. Expect something big.
For a moment the sounds of the practicing orchestra is contained on the stage, above the gods who turned up to watch them. Then they begin to trickle down to my realm, to my ears, to my world. An under-practiced flautist runs through a scale, and the leaves on a tree ruffle softly. A trombonist loses her balance for a moment, and the resulting pressure on her instrument causes a flash of light which drives me inside to watch. It’s beginning, I think. It’s beginning.
There is a pause. A long pause, where the trees still and the rolling gods in the sky slow and the regular sounds of the world of the mortals cease. I stare out my window expectantly, anticipating, my heart beating out a rhythm steady as any drum. The hearts of the gods beat as well, but out of a different anticipation, out of pleasure instead of fear.
And then – the curtain rises. The orchestra is there, instruments in hand, stone-faced and ready. The conductor, a man larger than anything our pathetic little brains can manage to comprehend, taps his stick on a podium.
He raises it –
And it begins.
Four notes. Four sharp, familiar notes from the string section, manifesting themselves as the beginnings of sweet music for the gods and as flashes of light for me. I jump, and the gods lean forward in their seats.
The four notes are repeated. Flashes of light abound.
And there the woodwinds start. It is beautiful for both the worlds. For the gods it is the pick of the universe, the best instrumentalists that creation – all of creation – can offer. And for me, it’s a gentle rainfall, picking up volume but falling straight and soft to the earth below. I watch the woodwinds take over; I watch the strings’ light and the brass’ supplement to that light. There is no percussion – not yet. That will come later.
It begins to pick up. The conductor, a being who will hold those under his command to the highest of high standards, stands on his toes as he sweeps his hands across the stage, willing the players to force out their best. His wand slices through the air, leaving vacuums as it makes a path through the molecules. It’s reflected in the sound coming from the stage – the musicians’ fingers fly across their instruments, their faces contorted in concentration, as if they were producing light itself – and for me, the lightening becomes brighter.
I’m lying in bed now, having given up on any sort of work or play. It’s a big thing here, the best orchestra in this universe. Maybe a once-in-a-lifetime thing. So I’ve capitalized on it by opening the blinds on my window and turning off the lights. I might have had the intention of falling asleep, but the nuances of Beethoven keep me quite awake.
There is a hint of percussion now, a hint of the thundering hands of some of the best-trained percussionists, a hint of thunder being handed down from the heavens to me. A hint of the childish angels bowling, when really it’s the angels playing Beethoven. For me it’s approaching, not ascending. I draw the blankets around me, as if the thunder were threatening instead of beautiful.
They’ve entered a softer portion now, now as the second movement begins, a period of sixty seconds that reduces the godly audience from the height of passion to weeping in their seats. So . . . beautiful . . . they whisper to their neighbors. They cannot tear their eyes away; they can scarcely even blink! And for me the rain is light, a slow, soft breeze ruffles the leaves on the trees.
But then the music becomes louder, harder, pushier. It bubbles up into a minor explosion of sound, and the sky melts into pops and tiny flashes of light that, together, light up the entire sky at times. And here the gods melt, here the chills make them shudder, here their hearts beat to the time of the music, here is where it makes them feel faint.
But it is soft again – and then loud – soft – loud – rain – lightening – thunder – soft – lightening – loud – the strings scale up and the percussion makes a rumbling thunder –
For a moment there is nothing as the third movement begins. For the gods there is a chance to recover. For the conductor there is a chance to rest. For me there is a ceasefire, a stopping of the lightening. And then –
A march! Sharp notes, cutting through the air as swiftly as the conductor’s baton. They are truly musicians now, each following the other and themselves and the conductor. And I hear and I see – the flashes of orchestrated light become sharper, the intervals more regular. Thunder I can hear, and the rain is a backdrop to everything. I sit up, chills running through my own body for reasons different that those of the gods. I rush to the window, looking, searching for the source of the music but unable to find it due to the masses of gods’ feet blocking my view.
But then, just as suddenly as the explosion began, it ended. For a long time – minutes – there is nothing. Just the quiet rumble of thunder and soft flashes for me, and a long, slow note for those above. It carries, lulling me and them into a sense of calm, of security, of even boredom. I think maybe it’s over, or leaving but –
I and they have forgotten the finale. With a bang everything returns. Smiles break out on the musicians’ faces as their fingers race across their instruments; the conductor moves his hands with such energy that he risks falling off his step. The gods want to rise out of their seats and I out of my bed, as the lightening becomes so bright that I can see the green on the trees even though it is dark outside. Light dances through the night sky; sound dances through the orchestra hall in this armpit of the universe which has suddenly become its mind, its heart, its soul.
And then – inexplicably, unexpectedly – it is soft again. Where did it go, I wonder, almost before I can finish wondering where it came from. But before I can even finish thinking that, it begins to build.
The gods are watching the fingers, moving up the scales, higher and higher, louder and louder. I am watching the lightening, tumbling across the sky, brighter and brighter, each flash longer and longer. The conductor has too much energy; he cannot expend it, and the musicians are frustrated. They seem to reach a peak – the gods clap their mouths shut to keep from screaming; I stumble back from my window, my eyes shut against the bright, and –
There is the climax, the pinnacle, the culmination of this orchestra’s reputation and the gods’ night. From a source I cannot see a ball of light forms and explodes into the night, creating colors and shadows in my bedroom. Thunder nearly splits my eardrums, rattling my pathetic shelter and knocking puny me to the ground. Across the sky an actual lightening bolt bursts into being and forks into more, zigzagging across the sky. And then it happens again. And again. And the gods, above, burst into tears and cheers and applause, standing and clapping and jumping, convinced that there is truly no proper way to express what they are feeling right now. For a full ten minutes they fill the sky with their applause, which trickles down to me in the form of residual thunder. They leave the hall shaking but determined, determined to find the conductor and shake his hand. Behind the lowered curtain the musicians catch their breath.
And I, the puny speck, crawl into bed. I shake, cold sweat running in rivulets. I have the feeling that I have never seen a storm like this before – or even that there’s ever been a storm like this before – and that I’ll never see one again. But I fall asleep knowing that I, despite my insignificance in the universe, have just heard – and seen, and felt – Beethoven’s 5th.