Comment Karma: Day 1

2 06 2008

In my yoga class here we listen to music. It’s a nice mix of chant and new age stuff, and sometimes there’s some techno Om stuff. It’s nice. At first I was put off by it because I’m used to doing yoga without music but now I just tune it out. Most of the time, my favorite music happens during sivasana, which is the final relaxation time because my mind can drift off and truly I can become relaxed.

But today was different. During the final poses of the hour, before sivasana, I heard the familiar strains of Ravel’s “Bolero.” You would definitely know this song. It’s one of the most recognizable tunes after, perhaps, Amazing Grace, and the Six Flags commercial with the dancing old man. (I know you know this.) In any case, Bolero is so recognizable because it is the same tune repeated over and over for something like 13 minutes, never changing key until the very last thirty seconds or so. The only variation of the tune is its volume. I read somewhere that Ravel’s brain worked in such a way that this repetition brought him a sense of calm. 

For me, it brought a wave of nostalgia I hadn’t been expecting. I suppose we don’t ever really expect to be brought back in time until we’re already there with the help of a familiar smell or an old photograph. Today it was the sound of Bolero, slowly and surely gaining strength and volume with the addition of bold brass and firm percussion.

The song itself is magical. It sounds like a returning memory feels: at first quiet, the instruments almost like whispers—- a furrowed brow and the thought, “Is that what I think it is?” A clear clarinet breaks through the whispers of the instruments and then it is the unmistakable refrain, the one that will carry its way again and again through the length of the work, building certainty, building intricacy each time it repeats. In this way, Bolero is like memory. They begin so quietly, without our even knowing. And then when we are certain we have the memory, we replay it again and again, remembering details, sensory details, touch and smell and movement. We go back in time and are transported to being different selves, before things happened, before things changed. 

What I love about Bolero is the memory I have attached to it: Sunday mornings in the kitchen, my father swinging me around the room with my little feet on his, twirling and spinning with the Bolero in the background, the smell of silver dollar pancakes spinning with us and my father’s slippered feet coasting and scuffing our linoleum floor, so in the end we are in the center of a cotton candy whirlwind of sound and smell and taste. Good Lord there is no memory I have that is more vivid than that, no memory I hold more precious than that simple moment decades ago when my feet were small enough to fit upon his and I could smush my nose into his shirt and inhale the deep sawdust cherry tobacco smell that had become his natural cologne. He carries me to the right two steps, turns in a circle, holding both of my arms out to the side, my little hands clutching in his dry wide fingers. I balance precariously on his toes and together we spin. It is not a dizzying spin, rather it is purposeful but lighthearted, like the early strains of Ravel’s work, before the percussion becomes dominating. To the left, back in a circle, and always, without fail, he is humming along to the music. 

All this Bolero brings back to me: safety, my father’s voice, his hands, adoration. And so while I sat in sivasana and listened to the music build, the percussion gaining control, the clarinet and oboe repeating again and again the same notes louder and clearer and stronger, I was again, five years old and not at all relaxed. I sat up straight in the yoga room and closed my eyes and tried my very, very hardest to keep myself in the memory. 

But, like all things, the song ends and so does this memory. It will resurface the next time I hear the music, and it will never fail to be this exact same memory. The silver dollar pancakes will never change, my father will never change, and the linoleum floor will be the exact same one I remember every time. There are no surprises in this memory in the same way there are no surprises in Bolero. And I don’t think I could be thankful enough for that simple fact. 



For details about this Comment Karma thing, read this




6 responses

3 06 2008

Awesome post Gina! I dance around with my little Ella and wish it would never end and I’m sure that’s exactly how your Dad felt too. That’s one of the truly beautiful things about music…it has an amazing ability to bring you back in time to some amazing memories…especially ones where you were truly in the moment. Those are the memories that seem to stay with us as vividly as if it were yesterday.

3 06 2008
Rachel L

That post was definitely one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read!

Music brings me back places, but smells have a more intense impact on me – I can time travel back to that moment when I smell it again. Senses can be powerful triggers…

3 06 2008

Oh man. I think smell is the most powerful trigger, or at least I think I heard or read that somewhere. Maybe on the Internets, so it must be true.

3 06 2008

Beautiful. I have no other words.

4 06 2008

Music almost always transports me back in time to perfect moments like the one you mentioned. And there is this smell of whiskey and chocolate that always sends me straight to when I was 3 years old sitting on the lap of our dear old neighbor lady’s lap. It was such an intense smell and sometimes I can remember that smell perfectly and I never want it to end. I loved her so much. Ooo I started doing Yoga on our Wii Fit last week. I couldn’t believe how intense it made me feel and emotional. Good stuff.

11 06 2008

That was beautiful.

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