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 The Musical Movements of Life 

Text by: Amy Carpenter

It’s afternoon. My 8-year-old is at school. My other three kids are (miraculously) down for a nap at the same time. I look longingly at my bed and then at my piano. Which do I choose? Do I take a much-needed nap, or do I spend some much-more-needed, therapeutic time playing the piano? Of course, the piano wins. I know I’ll be able to dream just as much as if I had slept. I pull out my favorite Beethoven piano sonata, “Pathetique,” because I am drawn to its three affecting “Movements” — ones that inspire and remind me of my own life. As I play, I ponder on the beauty of how composers create separate “pieces”, or “Movements”, if you will, within a much larger work, leading you through sometimes conflicting or paralleling emotions. It doesn’t matter how many Movements there are in a piece. There can be three, or four, or even seven, but they will usually differ in pace and mood. The composer, from the beginning, can already see the bigger picture and weaves the Movements together into a beautiful body of art. I place my fingers for the first chord, take a deep breath, and push down on the keys for the first Movement, “Grave”, or “slow.” The chords of this first Movement are drawn out, tortured at times. They move up the keyboard, up in pitch, until at last, the music can’t contain itself and falls back down, dancing with quick, cascading notes. It then changes and moves to a steady, driving beat, but doesn’t last for long as it returns to the quick, but this time delicate, dancing notes. Finally, the music slowly concludes as it hangs onto an accentuated A-flat. Swiftly, the notes dive into the feverish, “Allegro molto e con brio” (“very quick and with spirit”). Still spending time in the first Movement, the composer has created a new Movement within … and the race begins, controlled yet breathless. Sharp, staccato notes on the right hand, timpani-like drumming on the left. Running, almost stumbling. Then strangely the notes become smooth and beautiful just before plunging into a headlong rush of notes, alternating between a quick (“Allegro”) and slow (“Grave”) rhythm. Then, very abruptly, the first Movement of the Sonata ends, while the second Movement, “Adagio cantabile,” begins. The second Movement continues slowly, in a sort-of singing style. Different from the first Movement, which was an emotional rollercoaster of the “Grave,” this is a literal stroll in the park—peaceful, complete with swans swimming in the lake as you walk by. There is a bit of a storm in the middle, some raindrops and rolling thunder, but then it switches back to the leisurely stroll. It’s nice to have a break, a moment to regroup myself, but just enough to prepare for the last Movement: “Rondo—Allegro,” or “to return.” The final Movement is a return to a familiar fast-pace of the first Movement, but in a different, cheerful way. My fingers busily fly over the keys. It’s as if I am a bee now, off to find some flowers, returning to the hive with my loot. I feel as though I am happy to do my work, but I must hurry, for there is much to do. At times, I feel dizzy, as if I’m going to fall, until the music pulls me back into my purposeful flight. I stop to take a breath, just as I land on the longer notes and inhale on the rests. Finally, with some happy quietude, some feverish buzzing, and the irreverent kerplunk of a few bass chords, the exciting, emotional concluding Movement comes to an end, as does the complete Sonata. The journey has come to an end; each Movement has led me through an array of emotions and feelings to complete an exquisite life, one filled with happiness, busyness, as well as sadness. In my leftover dreaming, as I am still enjoying the thrill of the journey, I realize this piece echoes much of my own life. There have been times of sadness and grieving, similar to the experience of when my mother neared the end of her life. As reflected in the first Movement, I was in the grieving stages. The torture of frequent hospital visits, her flirtations with death, and her pulling back at the last moment to stay with me, just a while longer. In addition, there was a fevered rush to keep up with her medications, her doctors, her finances and living situation. At the same time, I was coping with my husband’s unemployment and the joys and trials of caring for my first child. But then that particular Movement of my life ended, and the beautiful, serene second Movement began. I had peace for awhile, and I found myself again. I took a deep breath, smiled, and enjoyed the beauty around me. That part of my life didn’t last long as I am now in the next sonata Movement of my journey… three more children, very close together with no break in-between. There has been a husband deployed, a young son diagnosed with a medical condition, and another brand new baby. It seems as though my life is much like the worker bee’s as I flit through my days, so busy I can only rest when I sleep. And as I reflected on my life, I was able to see how delicately the three different Movements of my life’s sonata have all intertwined to make me the person I am meant to be. I’ve enjoyed the journey thus far, and I will continue to enjoy it in the future. That is the important thing — to enjoy life as a whole, as a culmination of the different Movements, composed into a beautiful body of art. Embrace them, learn from them, and find joy in them.