"Bitonalities", except

Wednesday 2/19/20

A rumor percolated that when classes were held in the memorial theatre, students would have sex in the balcony. There was no witnessing of students having sex, which may have been the point. No one saw bobbing feet rising over the wooden partition, or heard breathing more labored than anything resulting from winter colds. But people still said it, after they had graduated, when confirmation or denial were increasingly nebulous conceits. I think they liked to think it.

After my divorce you could have passed hands the size of walls in front of my face, and I don’t believe I would have blinked. My eyes were dryer than peach pits for a long time. I only assume this now, but I know I am correct. They produced liquid in a multiplicity of moments, but on the whole, they were gulches in sockets etched into my head. I don’t think they extended back very deep. There was an element of the surface of tables to them.

Beethoven wrote his final string trio in 1798. He stopped writing string trios because he felt that his last effort bettered any string trio Mozart ever composed. I sit in the theater now, having purchased a student ticket, though I am not a student. Beethoven fills the space. The music is sufficiently powerful that I can feel it enter through the eyes, though perhaps my sockets have been compromised from the gulches, then the flow, the gulching, the flowing. Like heating and freezing a lead pipe until it cracks.

The final movement is bitonal. It’s in two keys at once. One might argue that life is atonal. Chaotic, with no home key, no underpinning tonal root. I think Beethoven believed it was multiple tonalities simultaneously. Which is why, having written this string trio, he could move on to composing the sixteen string quartets. I have the entire balcony section to myself, and I sit on one side, angled ninety degrees from the middle. The music is louder than one might think for there being just three players upon the stage—violinist, violist, cellist. Were I with someone else, we could conceivably lie atop of each other, undetected, though this is a performance, not a class. No one said anything about sex at sparsely attended performances. I think it was a student thing, a tradition, or the rumor of one. Traditions are bitonal. Even in their earliest stages, they are being crafted so that one can look back upon longevity. But you have to start somewhere, a chipper person might say.

I came here the Christmas after my divorce for a program of festive Medieval music. I’d start a tradition. I had a tradition. Because traditions have to start somewhere. There were full-throated odes to the joys of imbibing mead. Wassails about hearty beers that made me want to drink again. Full balconies. The program was quite popular. A lot of people on stage had bells on the backs of their slippers. My eyes were dry in the space. I looked into the rafters above. So many rafters in such a high-ceilinged building. They had me thinking of roads for birds, if you were a bird and did not feel like flying, felt like a slower pace could help you process your environment better, which could be useful later when you were flying. Maybe that is avian bitonality. Robins walk a lot, if you haven’t noticed, right across your lawn, as if they are too good for the air sometimes, and they can be human-like. It’s not just you, homo sapiens! A nice-spirited bird.

My mother was in town the next Christmas after my tradition began, and I took her to the memorial theatre to see and hear the medieval musical program. Another full balcony. We didn’t talk much, so this was a better space for us. My eyes were paper. Sometimes I saw lines, as if everything was college-ruled, superimposed with a translucent page ripped from a notebook. I’d try to blink the lines away, and sometimes they’d go, and sometimes they wouldn’t. We had tea first, in a place she liked. I didn’t really care for tea, but I had a full pot. “I know it’s hard,” she said, “but I would have left you too.” She said it like I should have left me as well, which is something I often thought, though I tried to sell myself on other keys, on modulation, because this one would kill me, whether I deserved it or not.