Guo: Bach-Busoni Chaconne in D Minor
I walk to the stage, two-inch heels clacking on the polished wooden floor. I stand in front of the grand piano, looking out over the parents and students who have gathered for our annual end of the year recital.
“This is for Mr. Mang,” I say.
I sit. I take three deep breaths with my eyes closed, silently humming the first few bars of Bach-Busoni Chaconne in D.
I place my hands on the keyboard, my left pinky and middle finger on the D and F keys, my right thumb on the A.
Andante maestoso, ma non troppo lento. Heavy. Burdened. Forte sempre. Molto energico. Angry. Subito piano. Desperate. Softly withdrawn.
Mrs. Mang, my piano teacher, stands at the back of the room. My piece is a surprise tribute to her husband who passed away seven months ago in December of 2012. The Bach-Busoni Chaconne for piano was his favorite piece; he asked that someone play it for him when he died.
Piu mosso, ma misurato. Leggiero ma marcato. Controlled frenzy. Glissando-like. Spinning — stopping — spinning. A fall.
My best friend and I dance in the basement of his fraternity, yelling the lyrics to “Mr. Brightside” at the top of our lungs. No one else is singing or dancing. We hold paddles in our hands as we force the game to a pause. Our opponents are not amused by our love of The Killers.
The chorus comes on, and I swing one leg onto the wooden table, followed quickly by my other. I hold my hand out to my friend and pull him up with me. We stomp on the table, slap the wooden beam above us and twirl around. Not one lyric is misspoken.
Allegro moderato ma deciso. Infused strength. At peace. Standing. Ascension upward past the sun shining through parted clouds.
When I was in elementary school, my figure skating coach told me to play piano before competing.
“Take your mind off skating. Distract yourself,” she said.
I always stood with my back facing my competitors on the ice, eyes closed, fingers tapping away a Scarlatti sonata or Chopin étude on the tops of my legs where my dress ended. I stood in my own bubble, impervious to the applause and the coaches and the adrenaline surging through my body. No one spoke to me.
I have not played piano in years, choosing a sport over an instrument. Now, when competing for Dartmouth, I plug my headphones into my phone and hit play on “Smile” by Mikky Ekko. I pace back and forth to the beat of the song with a slight bounce in my step, quietly singing along: “Smile, the worst is yet to come / We’ll be lucky if we ever see the sun.”
Last February, my coach turned toward me, a laugh escaping her lips as if to ask, “That’s what you choose to listen to before you compete your junior long program of three-and-a-half minutes?”
“Of course,” I wanted to respond. “The future is forgiven, so smile.”
Crescendo poco a poco. Piu vivo. Climax. Enveloped by nature, carried upward. Higher. Faster.
There’s a hypothesis that our emotional response to music is tied to our emotional response to human speech. Through evolution, our ability to identify emotional prosody has led to an ability to feel emotion due to changes in musical mode.
When I grow up, I want to own a Steinway grand — a black piano with the top raised in a circular room built of glass. I want to play in the middle of spring, with the sunlight streaming in and the windows open, and let my memories dictate the movement of my fingers until Beethoven and Liszt and Bolcom come alive. I want to create stories out of notes.
Tempo I. Largamente maestoso. A descent back to earth. Strength. Enlightenment. Resolution. I finish playing the Chaconne. It wasn’t a perfect rendition — there were wrong notes here and there, heavy pedaling at times to disguise imperfect technique. I stand up and bow. I see Mrs. Mang. Her eyes are red and she has forgotten to wipe away the tears that have run down her cheeks.
This is the power of music, I realize. It brings us to tears, lightens our thoughts, distracts our minds, triggers our memories. Music remains a form of communication when words fail.
Mrs. Mang walks toward me. She pulls me into a tight embrace and whispers, “Thank you.”