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Watch Out for Beethoven

When I was in Junior High School, after initially not making the cut, I finally got asked to be part of "TAG" - Talented and Gifted. If I recall, it was only because someone else opted out but hey, Russell Crowe wasn't first choice for Gladiator either, and that turned out pretty good.

As part of the program, I had to work with the teacher to develop an idea and project that would include research and a final deliverable. My first project was a filmstrip (remember those?) about our solar system. Even then, I had a feeling we couldn't be the only game in town. I deserved my own ET BFF and if a filmstrip was my first step, well, so be it.

My second project, being a typical twelve-year-old boy, (read that sarcastically), was to produce a video on the life of Beethoven. Yes, that Beethoven as in Ludvig, the late 18th/early 19th century composer famous for a few hits back in the day. It would have been more acceptable, I think, to produce a video on Beethoven, that adorable St. Bernard from the movie but a) it was still over a decade away from being released and b) this is me we're talking about.

I was learning to play Beethoven's 5th Symphony on the piano (an easier version) and I was engrossed, to say the least. I can still picture the cover of the sheet music with its rust orange silhouetted bust of Beethoven. The 5th was even used in Saturday Night Fever, albeit a disco version. Beethoven was moody, intense, a virtuoso at the piano and still not stationed enough in upper class society to get the girl. I mean, I could really get behind this guy. Between him and Neil Diamond from the Jazz Singer, I felt understood.

To this day, I still find both the universe and Beethoven fascinating. Neil Diamond, too. The question of distant alien lifeforms has taken a lot more mental space over the past couple of decades than Ludwig or Neil has, though.

So, it was unexpected when, walking through El Tenedor del Cerro in Antigua, Guatemala, an otherwise non-descript sculpture would have such a profound impact on me. That's the funny thing about feelings. You forget some of them are there - until you don't. Sometimes, all it takes is a song, a scent, or a photo to catch you by surprise, unleashing memories and emotions that you might not have even realized were still hanging around. Truly, though, are they ever really gone?

Efrain Recinos, a Guatemalan painter and sculptor, (among many other professions), was one of five famous Guatemalan artists being celebrated with their own collections at this venue. Overlooking a small pond area, a sculpture of Beethoven's face presided, water flowing gently in the man-made ponds below, then funneled and released from Beethoven's expressive eyes while his music accompanied his sorrow.

A description was provided: "Recinos introduces us to a dour Beethoven. Not in the dream world, but in an awake universe. This portrait is created not in reality but from reality. What fully reveals this portrait is the resound understanding of the possibility of art as creation, as invention and union between music and painting. 'His happy vision is equal to his infinite sadness and those closer to him less understand him. All his lonely life, far, very far, much above others.'"

I sat down on one of the stone benches integrated into the surrounding area around the sculpture. I felt very emotional. I thought about that 12-year-old boy and his obsession with a classical pianist from 200 years prior. I thought about my mom. I thought about Beethoven and his loneliness - and the weight of carrying a "happy vision" with "infinite sadness" and not being understood.

Maybe it was because this was just day two of being in a foreign country alone and not quite sure of anything. Maybe it was the lurking virus in my gut awaiting its assault and the exhaustion I was trying hard to ignore. Perhaps it was a mix of but I just cried for a bit, letting go of whatever it was that had to be let go of. Feeling sad without really understanding why is enough at times.

It's interesting that Recinos notes Beethoven as fully awake in reality. This is what so many still have trouble understanding about "realists" and artists, to some extent, as well. To be a realist is not to be negative. It doesn't mean one doesn’t have the capability to be optimistic. It does go deeper than that, however. Realists understand what it takes to turn vision into a reality; the thousand tiny miracles that must be possible to create hope. Artists must be realists in order to reflect the truth.

Without the truth we are only infinite sadness masquerading as happy vision. At least with the truth, we have the chance to experience the real thing.

Until next time,


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