Life Thought: Who is your Beethoven?

Last Thursday, I attended the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's opening of Brahms' Symphony No. 1 as a faculty chaperone for our music majors.

Now before I lose you *non-musical readers stifle impending groans & eye-rolls*, this is NOT a review on my evening at the DSO. Even though the Sibelius Concerto in D minor for violin and orchestra was mind-blowing!!! Even though the final movement of Brahms No. 1 was heroic, dashing, powerful, PASSIONATE, and simply MAGNIFICENT

I repeat: not a music review. I have another purpose for today's post. Thursday, October 8th 2015, as I sat in the Grand Tier of the Meyerson Symphony Center, I had a revelation of epic proportions:

I am Brahms. 

And I am terrified of Beethoven. *millions of sopranos around the world nod enthusiastically in agreement*

Stay with me here. 

In the program notes of Thursday evenings' performance, I read that Brahms took over 20 years to write this symphony. 20 YEARS. Considering some composers before & after Brahms didn't live past their 40's, this is unusual. Why, you ask? Apart from Brahms' notorious bout of perfectionism, he was following in the footsteps of none other that (you guessed it) the Master of Symphonies, Ludwig van Beethoven. And he was terrified.

How can you create something fresh when it has already been perfected by the master? How can you emulate your idol while still being true to your own creative soul?

And how can you do it without being accused of copying. Plagiarizing. Taking the easy way out...

You have no idea how it feels when one always hears such a giant marching behind one.
— Brahms

This spoke to my soul. As soon as I read this, I heard his symphony in an entirely new light. This was my brother. My comrade-in-arms. Two sides of the same coin.

That night, the music carried me.

And I understood.

Brahms was a Great. He had it all. And he was terrified of failure. He was terrified of Beethoven

Any creative aficionado can relate to this idea. How can we present ourselves as writers, singers, chefs, painters, musicians, teachers, when there are Greats that come before us, setting the bar SO HIGH that we feel like it's unattainable.

As an opera singer, there are countless sopranos, "Greats", who I've looked up to during my formative years, and continue to use as examples in my teaching and performances. 

Natalie Dessay. Diana Damrau. Joan Sutherland. Sumi Jo. Reneé Fleming. Beverly Sills. Lucia Popp. *cue the Hallelujah chorus*

But, without fail, each time I listen to one of their arias, Doubt begins to seep into my Symphony No. 1. Beethoven starts raining on my parade. How can I hope to achieve any sort of success when so much seems to have been accomplished already by these amazing singers?

And besides, I've got my own obstacles to deal with...My facial features are "too delicate"; they don't translate well on stage. My body type "doesn't match the size of my voice". I look too young;"come back in 5 years". Do I have 5 years?!? Where the hell will I even be in 5 years?!

Why do we let those that came before us affect what we do now?

I can only imagine this resonates true with some of the newer authors whom I absolutely LOVE: Sarah J. Maas, Rae Carson, Susan Dennard, Victoria Aveyard... All of these incredible YA authors have "Greats" that they look up to, that they have had to grapple with in order to sit down and tell their stories. 

When I was 12, I found a story. When I was 13, I began writing short stories of my main character, Riona, of her adventures, her sorrows, her discoveries and  her magic. By the time I was 16, I had cranked out 250 pages of what can only be described as pure shit. But it was MY SHIT. Computers crashed. Word documents were lost. And that was that. I moved on to bigger, better things. Music programs. Boston living. A hot husband. 

But Riona was still there. Living just under the surface. I began to see her again when I'd listen to the Gladiator soundtrack. When I'd watch Lord of the Rings. When I was trying my best to forget her. And last summer I attempted to let her out again. For old time's sake. I got two pages in before throwing in the towel. Why? 

Because of "Greats".

Because of Robin McKinley's Hero and the Crown

Because of Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon

And Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody series...

Incredible, AMAZING  books that have been so inspirational to my life!! Authors with insanely imaginative worlds and hooks and relationships that I, frankly, find hard to live up to.

Why can't we let these be the gateway instead of the blockade? Harnessing the power of our minds with passion of our souls? Using our mentors to help form our way rather then hinder it. 

Fear of failure is crippling.

I don't have all the answers. I barely know what I'm doing half the time. But I do know this: in order for creativity to have a chance, before it gets cut down by legionnaires of anxiety and fear, WE MUST JUMP.

I’ve written a great many stories, and I still don’t know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.
— John Steinbeck

Just sit down. And write. 

Stand up. And sing. 

We all know it takes hard work, and perseverance, resilience through adversity. But the hardest part sometimes is just carving out the time to get through our "Beethovens", so we can create something GREAT.

Riona is still waiting. For now, I'll sing my own song.