Of Rachmaninoff’s Hands and Oliver Sacks’ Beard

I wash my fingers in cold water and think of Rachmaninoff who, learning he was dying, went to his study, shut the door, and said farewell to his hands. Perhaps there’ll be music where we’re going, but the drama of personal death has everything to do with saying goodbye to the embodied music that has made it possible to live.

When I woke this morning and read of the passing of Oliver Sacks I thought, “he had to say goodbye to his wonderful beard” and then I imagined the great neurologist’s beard as a forested antenna transmitting aleatoric music of the cosmos straight into his brain.

If such speculations help, they help. And of course they’re conceits, at best educated guesses.

We know there’s music out there. We know we’ve picked some of it up in our curves and dimples.

Once, while visiting the LaScala opera house in Milan, I saw Giuseppe Verdi’s boyhood piano. You could see where Verdi’s father had written with pencil on the keys the positions of the notes. At first I thought, “that’s so his son could see the notes, place his fingers…” Then I realized it was so his son could hear what his fingers produced.

Body. Music. Prologue. Whatever comes next.

Note: I’m not arguing God is in the gaps—this small homage to musical possibilities beyond our mortal coil has nothing to do with the intelligent design crowd. Things vibrate. I exult in this fact because every vibration gives the tympanic membrane something to transmit.

I still miss Rachmaninoff’s hands and now I shall miss Oliver Sack’s beard-receiver.

 

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