i said to the barista "wow, you guys have a bangin' sound system here." it was like being in the ocean. the music totally surrounded me, like warm water so thickly salted it cradles you into weightlessness.
he pointed wordlessly behind me, and i followed his sightline. i'd missed the black-clad quartet arranged in the front corner when i scanned the room at the first swell of strings. half of them backed against the plate glass and the bright december sun outside.
i sat at a table about three body lengths from the source of the sound. warm cup on top of newsprint.
i would not normally sit in the shop, but the music moved me to stay. i would not normally welcome the same ole' christmas chestnuts. i don't believe the myths. what's more, i don't care for most of the tunes: showy bright and silly. i grew up in los angeles. winter wonderland is quaint, dated, and as resonant with my life experience as explosions made in the nearest soundstage that some action hero will later be dropped into via cgi.
first violin focused on her part, tripping up a set of sixteenth notes with simple intent. it was admirable playing, neither terrible nor sublime, but her focus said that it might be graceful one day. watching her track the cascade of black notes before her made the music come alive. it burrowed into my heart. there was a subtle bodily collaboration from viola, second violin, and cello: an inclined head, a torso leaned forward, an elbow shot out. a whole posture unfurling - dropping hands, bow and shoulders, lifting chest, chin and smile in the relaxed aftermath as vibration evaporates into stillness.
i sat at attention, through images of clip-cloppity horses, blond angels in red and white raiment, turbanned silhouettes shuffling forward under a clear night sky. then the harmonies of 'silent night' rose softly. i sat floating in their music, in the buoyancy of it. it was as if their bows drew directly across my heart. motes of rosin caught the sunlight of the window.
i clutched my cup, choked at the sweetness of it, letting salt tears drip into the ocean of their music.
i sat at meditation this morning. i discovered after a year of practice that trying to focus on my breath often brings up anxiety, with it a slight asphyxiation. when offered, i will often choose sound as the object of attention.
the heater set the tone. the vent clacked and clattered. a dull rush enveloped the staccato notes. it encircled my consciousness. periodically a flat arc of a car's passing. closer, a woman coughed a rough triplet, low low lower, the plosive notes offset by pause. the sounds spontaneously built the space, carving concentric circles that marked distance from my ears, my consciousness, inside and outside the building.
the teacher spoke. i heard the bright pitch of her voice. it tickled through my head. i relinquished, somewhat, the meaning of her words, and simply felt five horizontal copper strands vibrate with the pluck of her tongue. i registered the rise and fall of her tone, when syllables were drawn long, or pulled over a series of notes. a cascade or a cataract.
i listened as intently as i could. sometimes my breath shortened, and commanded my attention. it usually does when my legs start to fall asleep. a bright voice. thought: call the cat sitter. a cough. my own mental voice storytelling, explaining, imploring. the demand of my tingling legs. from outside: an instruction to return to expanded consciousness if the concentration is stable. thoughts tinkling like a xylophone.
i settle on the symphony of the heater.
and then it stopped. the system cycled off. it was like thick cotton wool and tattered pinky gray insulation tearing back. breath. a rustle of limbs and shifting weight. footsteps and laughter muffled by the glass door.
soft quiet layers, a gentle flow of woodwind and brass. surging gently.
i heard people
with the machinery off, i settle on the symphony that is.