I love walking down a remote dirt potholefield of a road through the unimaginable vastness of high nomadic grasslands, or deep into the shadows of a remote, forested gorge, or winding everupwards along steep landslidy slopes towards a high grassy ridge with contentedlygrazing livestock, and suddenly hearing a distant glimmering hint of sound, a semiaudible jangled whispering, a thought of music which then broadens, opening wider openly echoing loosely across the landscape, expanding and organizing and structuring itself into rhythm and harmony and guitar and vocals and drumbeats and a symphonic completeness of beautifully arranged cacophony; suddenly the source becomes visible, a beelike buzzingly careening motorcycle with miniature speaker strapped to its back; you jump out of the way to let it pass; with it, the music passes too, dimming and dying into faintness, before fading into a hollow echo, a barely imaginable idea silently floating away into nothingness.
The incongruity of such a moment is due to the sudden appearance of technology, of culture, even of human emotion in a place where they all seem to be lacking. It reminds us of our daily lives and of the significance of our existence within a world which can seem immense and eternal. It reminds us of our value in places where humans seem unimportant compared to the awesomely overarching breadth of nature; while we often vastly overestimate our importance, it can be easy to be intimidated and crushed into a feeling of insignificance in places which remind you of your smallness, your aloneness, your vulnerability. But even in a tangential encounter, music – even including such atrocities (sorry, students) as Justin Bieber – gives powerful rise to our emotions and makes us remember our humanity.
That music has such emotive and humanizing powers has been in my mind recently because of the recent emotional dramas at school and in the classroom, centered on the unexpected death of the head teacher of my second-year class. As I didn’t know the teacher intimately, I was less affected at first; however, this changed after I began helping the students work through their grief – which seemed to transfer itself directly to me. In the end, this experience has made me much closer to the class, but not without difficulties. It is extremely hard for me, as a foreigner, to understand the mourning and grieving processes in Tib. culture – and to know what ways are appropriate for me to help students. Another drama, albeit on a smaller scale, has involved my relationship with a student in the 3rd year class. We usually have an excellent relationship; however, he seems to have taken a vow of silence (or something of the sort) and, aside from occasional brief soundbites to his deskmate hasn’t really spoke to anyone for the past week. Needless to say, this can make things interesting in class. And while the above situations may not seem important, they are magnified when you live alone and have Amnye Machen-sized amounts of work attacking you on a daily basis.
Anyway, if I have been able to maintain a (relatively) sound mind and body, it is at least partially due to the music I have been surrounded with, especially the music I’ve been playing on the piano. Listening to music can be helpful; playing music on the piano, or singing, or involving yourself in the production of the music in any way can be cathartic. Immediately after I heard the news of the head teacher’s death, I came home; as I didn’t have time for a long run in the countryside (my other cathartic activity), I sat down at the piano and looked for music to play. I discarded everything I’d been playing recently; it felt too familiar, and I needed something different, something that could remind me of myself, something that could tease out my emotions from my unrelentingly firm grasp, play with them, and then torture them, squeezing and twisting and drenching and wringing and flogging them, much like how I handwash laundry on my porch, into different forms, new with cleanliness, ready to be dried flappingly in the wind and aired beneath the brightness of the sun.
I pulled out my tattered score of Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B Minor. I hadn’t played it in several years, and as I put my hands to the keyboard for the opening notes I knew that I had chosen the perfect piece for emotional cleansing. Long, at times stormy and at times calm, the piece is an emotional rollercoaster of romantic angst, joy, fear, anger, anxiety, egotism, and every other human sentiment imaginable; before, finally, a resolution, ending with a series of beautifully chiming chords which, quietly fading into nothingness like the music on a passing motorcycle, communicate an indescribably profound inner peace.
And by the time I got to these chords, after bumbling embarrassingly through the piece, that was how I felt. The passing motorcycle had done its trick; I was whole again.