When Words Just Will Not Do


This was to be a blog with no words.


Merril D Smith’s blog on Monday, Still Life, got me started. She opened with this quote:

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

–Leonard Bernstein


And she offered a link for more information. (For information on this quote. Go here. )


Taking my cue from her, my post for today originally began this way:

I have few words this week. I have no opinions, no theories, no stories worth telling at the moment.

I am on overload with people’s explanations of why these tragedies happened, with politician’s talk of what we must do, and with the news media’s unquenchable need to fill the air waves with sensationalist chatter 24 hours a day and their insistance that there is only one way to look at most things.


My sentiments have not changed. It’s just that, in the process of selecting the music, I found words.


I love the idea of taking refuge in music. And what better choice, I thought, than Leonard Bernstein conducting anything!  (Maybe George Szell, but I digress).


Unfortunately, the video clips I listened to were either of poor quality or too long.


So, I broadened my search and settled on either Panis Angelicus  or Fur Elise. Listening to multiple renditions, I came across this one.


Pianist Valentina Lisitzsa, playing Beethoven’s classic, Fur Elise. (Four minutes)




Her interpretation grabbed me and held me tight. Her touch was so light, her pacing so smooth, so right on.  I was mesmerized and knew I’d found the clip I wanted for today’s blog.


Hang with me here.  This really does get to a point.


But who was she?

I’d never heard of her before.  So, I Googled her.  Please keep in mind, it’s now about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. I usually have these written by Sunday afternoon — the week before.


I first read her Wikipedia entry. Then one of her Facebook posts.


I’m embarrassed to say, my initial instinct was to delete her. She represented much of what I disdain and I wanted nothing to do with her. Have you ever done that? Just pushed an idea (or a person) away because it threathened your sense of who you were?


I feared including her would somehow align me politically with her (imo, quite distorted) views. I feared if I gave her a voice, that voice would just get louder. I feared her voice might eventually convince me. I feared.


But her rendition of Fur Elise was just so beautiful.  I listened to it again.



What to do?


My quandry, I thought, has something to teach us about what’s going on here in the U.S.


In the aftermath of the tragedy in Paris last week, attention has been newly focused on the Syrian refuge issue.  I recall, in the initial hours of the tragedy still unfolding, Wolf Blitzer on CNN first offered the suggestion connecting the hordes of Syrian refugees to the carnage. It wasn’t even over and yet there he went, offering a suppostion. I was infuriated.


Then, today came the swarm (literally) of State Governor press releases announcing unequivocally, “We want nothing to do with them. Keep them out.”


I believed their reponse is based in fear.  As was mine toward Valentina.


xenophobia    /ˌzɛnəˈfəʊbɪə/    noun

hatred or fear of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture


And the words began to come. 


Fear is often a motivator.  What do we do with it?  When is it wise to let it drive us? And when are we better advised to set it aside and “do it anyway.”

How do we recognize fear? How do we know THAT’s what we’re feeling?

How do we “own” it (e.g., It’s my fear; you didn’t give it to me). What does our fear say about us?

And, How do we honor it? How do we come to a place where we make the right decision? How do we live with it?



Too often, certainly with fear, our first instinct is to react, to push it away. Some may lash out in anger or hatred, some may run. Some may feel paralyzed and freeze. Fight, flight, or freeze.


So, last night and on into this morning, I sat with this fear of mine, this strong desire to just delete this woman from my blog. To push her as far away from me as I possibly could.


There was a time in my life when pushing her away would have been the right choice. There were years when I didn’t have the energy or the strength to negotiate maintaining my own sense of self in the presence of anyone so very different. I was a chameleon and took on the colors — the values — of those around me.

Those days are, gratefully, behind me (usually).  I no longer worry that I’ll lose myself if I deal with someone very different from me. In fact, my ability to do this has opened my world in a delightful way.

But back to the point.

I’m newly aware, thanks to trying to write a post here, that fear needs to be acknowledged, owned, and dealt with. Sometimes we need to flee. Or fight back. The sourse is important. Brown bears come to mind. Pending tsunamis too. War weary refugees do not.


Sometimes we need to sit (or stand) still. We need to take a breath. Perhaps get more information.


Perhaps listen to music.


Perhaps just open our hearts and learn to trust.



12 Responses

  1. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    We get wrapped up in the fear wen we only look at the detail immediately before us. Stepping back (even metaphorically) and looking at the bigger picture reveals a lot more, giving context, scope and, often, balance. Only with this do we begin to develop the understanding that will enable us properly to process whatever it was that caused the fear. Only then will we be able to appreciate that there is a lot more to every question, situation, or image than meets the eye and by ignoring all that we are, at best, missing out or, worse, doing someone else a disservice and an injustice.

    I played your clip five times. 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Excellent point, Ian. Thank you. To carry your metaphor one step further, I’d say in order to take a step back, one must be able to let go of that particular moment. Trust they’ll survive the stepping back. Very difficult for some. But your words give me a new and welcome image of why we “take a breath,” why we “sit still” for a moment. A great addition. As always. Thanks.

  2. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    What a thoughtful and profound post, Janet! Thank you. (And I am happy that my post got you started. ) 🙂
    Of course, your post made me immediately think of FDR’s (and others) “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
    Your quandary with the pianist and her views is something that people often have to deal with–there are many artists of all sorts who over the ages have espoused views that many of us would not support.

    For me, the music might be this. “Make Our Garden Grow” from Bernstein’s “Candide,” makes me cry, but feel good. I like that this particular clip is for a tribute to Bernstein and that he is visibly moved by it.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I so enjoyed that clip, Merril. I’d love to know who the singers were. Your clip led me to other Bernstein clips, which led to his “Greatest 5 minute music lesson ever”. Something like that. Excellent.

      If only the garden growers and the wood splitters of the world were as vocal as the fear mongerers. .

  3. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Janet, I played Fur Elise as my last recital piece. 🙂 How great is it when one idea sparks another.

    Merril, I was moved by the Bernstein piece too, both the rendition and his visible reaction. Art makes us human, I think. And we can express opposing viewpoints and be heard without resorting to inflammatory rhetoric – or worse, violence.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      So how did you think Valentina did, Marian? I remember playing it too. But never like she does.

      The post contained a pertinent but brief poem from Ezra Pound for a short time. But I felt it was overkill. Maybe I’ll use it next week.

      Thanks for stopping.

      • Marian Beaman
        | Reply

        Well, there is no contest between Valentina and me. But then I wasn’t wearing a long, red gown either – ha!

  4. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    Last week I posted the following quote on my Facebook page: “Music is what feelings sound like.”

    Thanks so much for all the wise words posted here. My breaking heart feels better.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      That was a great quote, too, Joan. I’ve often wondered which comes first? Do you choose the music to fit the feeling you’re having at the time? Or do you begin to feel what the music conveys? I think I want to start with #1, But it’s more often I fall into #2.

  5. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Oh, Janet, I’ve also become acutely aware that much of what is happening in our world is fear-based. The collective grief ripples throughout the world and touches us all deeply. To think about those desperate families being turned away is too much to bear and adds to the grief. One can only hope that sanity and compassion will overrule the fear in time. The music helps. Thanks

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Music does help. Thanks for checking in, Kathy. Always good to have you.

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