Shostakovich

Getting steamrolled by a musical train

My mother loved her classical music (exhibit A and B). For years, she tried to convince me to attend Montreal’s prestigious international music competition with her. It’s a pretty phenomenal concept: an annual competition, cycling through piano, violin and voice. There are several rounds, but the finals are 2 nights of full concertos for ridiculously cheap prices – with musicians that have the potential to be the next great soloists. I attended the piano competition with her in 2008, and the violin one in 2007. After that I grew too busy with work (exhibit C and D), and couldn’t make the time to maintain this activity with my mother. As with many things I shared with my mom, I’ve yet to face my shame and grief by attending this competition. Maybe next year.

I have trouble, usually, appreciating a new piece of music on the first listen. I need to listen to it over and over again, in order to be able to relax into it. Then one day, out of nowhere, usually when I am half listening while doing the dishes or folding laundry, it will suddenly slice through my brain and my heart and I will get it. I grew up listening to Brahm’s 2nd piano concerto in the car, all the time. I’ll never forget the day when I suddenly heard it for real, for the first time. We were patiently waiting to turn left at the red light intersection near our home. I remember the warmth of the sun through the car window on my arm, my mother driving in the front seat, how her sunglasses rested on her cheeks, the wind blowing through her rolled down window, the feel of car seat material against my thighs. A moment of wonderment, as I listened, truly listened, to that music for the first time. I was 9-10 years old, and it remains one of my most vivid memories, almost 25 years on.

At the 2007 violin competition, I discovered Prokofiev’s first violin concerto, which remains one of my favorite pieces ever: technically astounding, frothy and light, with an undercurrent of emotion to give you some feels. I was happily surprised at my ability to relax into the unknown and appreciate this new discovery. I patted myself on the back, chit-chatted with my Ma during intermission, listened an underwhelming Beethoven violin concerto, felt a little tired during the 2nd intermission and wondered how I’d survive a 3rd concerto, especially since it was another new discovery for me: Shostakovich’s 1st violin concerto.

From the very first sequence of notes, I sat, stunned. I listened as my life and my reality, in musical form, were played to me by strangers, written by a man long deceased from a land I’ve never visited, living in circumstances I’ll never know (Stalin’s reign of terror). I felt completely understood, emotions I’d never been capable of naming, perfectly expressed. I was exposed, vulnerable and raw, my persona and defenses stripped away by the truth of the music. It felt like I got hit by a train. That hangover lasted for days.

I didn’t know, in 2007, that my shadow wasn’t an occasional visitor, but my lifelong companion and nemesis. So I was confused why I could relate so strongly to Shostakovich’s 1st violin concerto, which is written from a place of pain, torment and anguish. I didn’t know, then.

10 years have lapsed, and I’ve yet to discover another musical piece that more completely gets all of me. It is me.


I wrote Rough Patch because writing is how I try work through things. Each post is true but cannot capture the whole truth: 750-1000 static words, a snap shot of a given moment in time. Family and friends reached out to me in a state of considerable alarm, which made me feel guilty – I voice my problems because voicing them helps me nullify my shadow’s attempt to foster corrosive shame, but in doing so I dim others’ happiness. Reassuring them about something that I cannot reassure myself about adds to the exhaustion of life.

I lost 4lbs from last week’s 6 hour cry fest. It took me 2.5 days to rehydrate adequately, and rebalance my electrolytes. No, I have not been spending every day crying, since. I even had a few moments of laughter this week. Am I still exhausted, and in that danger zone btn a funk and something much worse? Yes. Am I trying to take care of myself? Yes. I religiously go to the gym every Saturday, because seeing my #squaD is as good for the soul as the endorphins are for my brain. This week I treated myself to a bonus workout on Thursday, totally worth it, except now I have to catch up some stuff this weekend. I try eat fruits and veggies most days. My roommate took care of the fridge. I sleep a lot. I try answer most texts within 48hours so that I don’t feel a pit of guilt for being a bad friend.

This is depression. Some days it is really bad and messy. Some days I look mostly normal. All days feel like Shostakovich’s 1st violin concerto.

Advertisements