I was asked a terrific question during a recent classroom visit. I spoke about a volunteer who described a picture which was hanging on my hospital wall during the time when I had no eyesight. I told everyone how beautiful this picture was. This lady taught me we do not need any eyesight to see the beautiful pictures our world offers. Later, after learning I also lost my visual memory which causes me to no longer be able to see images in my mind, a student asked how I was able to “see” in such great detail this picture the volunteer described to me. I answered her question. However, I did not feel my answer was adequate. This is one reason I love being asked questions. It forces me to look deeper into my condition and help everyone –including myself- learn more about how my damaged brain works.
So, how is it the volunteer could create such an amazing image for me when I was blind and was unable to conjure up pictures in my mind? My more detailed answer to this question: Have you heard Mozart’s 65th symphony in B minor?
Let me describe it to you: First, there is silence. A bassoon begins to make the only sound. This bassoon sounds lonely, almost haunting, as it repeats the same note slowly holding it longer and longer each time in between lengthy breaths. Finally, when you are certain the player has no air left, the tuba joins in adding its low call begging to break the painful bassoon beat. The trumpet joins with the tuba. Their sounds come together becoming almost inseparable. Other brass instruments join in beat by beat. The lonely, slow bassoon sound is nearly forgotten as all the brass begins to play together. Suddenly you become lost in the horn sounds. Their beat becomes more frantic. You listen closer. Children suddenly look around anxiously. You can’t pull yourself away from the horns. Drums add what sounds like marching feet finding a battle. The noise becomes chaotic. The rhythm is lost. Its raging speed is frantic. Suddenly: CRASH!! …. A cymbal crashes destroying and stopping all other sounds. The noise ends leaving complete silence. Silence fills the stage and the room. Nothing is heard as every person holds their breath. The heart pounding crescendo you just experienced leaves confusion having been stopped so abruptly. Then one lonely piccolo gently breaks the silence. A sweet, long pitch fills the fragile air. Three flutes follow. The dark noise which built to silence is now filled with peace. You feel light as the flutes beckon happiness. The clarinets join, and you feel swept away. Chaos, anxiousness, is replaced with happiness. Do you feel what the flutes are offering, the peace?
Can you feel the emotional pull we have just danced through? But Mozart never did compose a 65th symphony is B minor. You would have never heard that piece. Unless you have studied music at great length, you cannot identify the sounds and the feeling this combination of instruments could create. Yet, if you were told this story with dramatic voice intonation, your heart could race. You anticipate what would follow the crash of the cymbal.
Just like I no longer have the ability to see pictures in my mind, you did not have the ability to hear the full symphony. And, in the end, we all have a similar experience. The picture was described for me so my memory could assist my emotions in creating a wonderful image, if not for me to see, at least for me to feel. This is a symphony you will never hear, yet I hope it made your pulse race. It can leave you wondering the rest of the day how words leave you in awe over a beautiful sound you will never be able to hear. This hospital volunteer left me seeing a beautiful picture. I hope I leave you hearing a beautiful symphony. I truly believe it is possible to see without having any pictures and to hear without having any sounds.