Thursday, November 11, 2010


I sit in the school of music's main recital hall in eager anticipation of a violin recital beginning in a few moments. Looking around me, I take in the scenery with which at this point I am already completely familiar. The pale wood of the rounded, segmented acoustical columns…the stark contrast between the dull metal pipes and the decorative weave of the recital hall’s prominent, obvious organ…the non-vibrance of the pale blue paint covering the matte walls…

The violinist enters the stage. Soft applause fills the room as she quickly acknowledges the audience, tunes her instrument, and begins to play, accompanied by piano. She is beautiful. Her skill and dedication require no introduction, and are immediately made apparent by her selected work. Students all around me have spiral-bound notebooks at the ready, writing instruments racing desperately to quickly put into words that which has no adequate linguistic description for their surely soon to be due music appreciation course papers.

As I allow the now well-established music to reach into my chest cavity, I notice a new and persistent external sound emanating from elsewhere in the audience. A man across the aisle from me is breathing so heavily that I can hear his entire respiratory cycle over the instruments. At first, I experience only agitation. I try to ignore it, but it persists. The agitation escalates gradually into aggravation with each labored intake of atmospheric gas through the nose next to me. 

“Talk to a doctor,” I think to the man in something other than words.

Suddenly, there is a breath to end all breaths; a stifled gasp, perhaps. The aggravation turns immediately to frustration, and I brave a glance to my left. The man is older, seemingly in his sixties, with moderately long, but stringently kept locks of shockingly white hair. He is handsome despite his age, and is inconspicuously well-dressed in the manner that only older, more dignified men can be. The man’s hands are folded with intent and held in front of his mouth, the elapsed knuckles of his index fingers suspended but a few millimeters from the bottom of his large, yet fitting nasal protrusion. His gaze is affixed firmly upon the woman on the stage, mirroring through his eyes a hybrid emotion of metallic concentration and soft, affectionate wonder. The corner of his mouth creeping out from behind his hands is contorted ever so slightly into the telling half-grin of a being impressed.

Not even a second after turning my head to the man, the violinist strikes almost violently a perfectly executed sustained vibrato of a pitch which can only be described as devastating. In immediate reaction to the grandeur before us, the man’s tightly clasped hands begin to tremble noticeably and his eyelids creep shut in a way that only deep satisfaction can provoke. The most empathetic of familiarities seizes upon my mind, and any form of frustration that I had once harbored towards the man dissipates so rapidly that it feels as though the emotion had never existed.

I maintain my glance briefly, long enough to notice the man’s knee begin to rise and fall slowly to the meter of the music. As I begin to look away, one of his hands struggles free from the other and begins sharply rising and falling over his rhythmically bobbing leg, jabbing the empty space in front of him on sharp notes and floating through the air as though unattached during gentle sections.

Here is a man with whom I share a mind. He is not simply listening to this music; he is allowing it to interface directly with his nervous system.

Full of understanding and newfound appreciation of the man’s elevated breathing, I turn my head back towards the stage, looking around once more at the students, many of whom have already directed their attention to more important matters such as monitoring their overactive cell phones or drawing fifth-grade geometry class cube diagrams in the margins of their notes. A couple in the seats directly in front of me are being silently obnoxious and perpetually falling all over each other.

I can still hear the man’s breathing over the music, but it no longer bothers me. It is, in a way, a comfort to me: knowing that there is at least one other person in the room who experiences sound not simply as entertainment or art, but rather as a physically holistic experience that transcends the boundaries between the body and its imprisoned mind.

I want to talk to the man. 

I want to listen to his stories.

I want to learn from him.


  1. You know, with enough of this (and a narrative) you could write a very interesting book.

  2. That's actually a consideration. I'm not really planning on doing that, but I'm trying to structure them in such a way that the potential for compilation of some sort (even if it is just for personal purposes) is not totally lost.