I want to share something very personal.

I spent the night with Beethoven.

I felt immersed, involved, caressed by sound, energized, understood…………. I was absorbed deep within my private emotional orbit of pleasure, poignancy, and memory.

I was oblivious to the world outside my own, although I was in the midst of approximately 2,000 people.

Beethoven and I had a date.

My date with the composer was at the opening concert of the Ann Arbor Symphony led by its excellent and masterful conductor, Arie Lipsky. The soloist was the spectacular pianist Garrick Olhsson. Following a moving orchestral performance of Beethoven’s heroic 3rd Symphony, Olhsson performed Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto with vitality, affection, humor, and one of the most beautiful, nuanced tones in my memory.   Orchestra and soloist were then joined by the inspiring University of Michigan Choral Union for Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. Surely the climax of the evening rang in the heavens. The stars, performers, and composer were aligned.

I was not anticipating the depth of my nostalgic and evocative reactions. I was reminded that in my book, “Melodies of the Mind”, I explored how music affects me deeply. Trained both as a musician and psychologist/psychoanalyst, I am interested in my emotions as well as those of others. I am also fascinated with the formal construction of music and why it evokes strong feelings. I am curious about what resonates in me (and others) when words seem inadequate.

When listening to this concert, words were inadequate.

Music has provided comfort, softened sadness, and made me feel happy, joyful, strong, and sometimes evoked a melancholy I did not understand and could not express verbally. I have become increasingly aware how much music helps me feel what I often cannot put into words. I struggle with that now as I try to verbally explain my night with Beethoven. Have you ever experienced wordless feelings when listening to music?

People who have professional training in music can listen to a concert and be aware of harmonic modulations, transposition of thematic material, and trace rhythmic motives. Besides my hybrid background, I am fortunate to have sung in the chorus (along with my daughter) in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy when my husband, Louis, was soloist several years ago. It was thrilling. Frankly, I believe the formal qualities of music  resonate deeply and evoke emotions long before you can put feelings into words.  I think this is true for both those trained and untrained in music’s “language”.

Yet my night with Beethoven had nothing of the technical and analytic reactions of a trained musician or psychoanalyst. I was carried away by what the music evoked in me. Listening to his music provided not only a form of communication between the performers and myself and specifically between Beethoven and myself, but a meaningful emotional dialogue within my mind. Music can do that.

Finding words to convey the personal meanings in music are difficult and complex. Perhaps one day, neuroscience research will find out what is going on in the brain as it  responds to music. I’d like to part of that exploration. Yet I doubt a fMRI or other technology will ever be able to explain what it MEANS to a listener to have a particular area of the brain light up. Emotional issues that have been preserved in our mind over many many years clearly can be reawakened through music.

I’d go a step further: music allows all of us, professionally trained or not, to rework many of the emotional melodies in our minds without any formal knowledge of how music “works”. If music, as some claim, makes you “smarter”, being in touch with your feelings is an important part of that process.

In the hands of the composer and the performers, music’s nonverbal language allowed me to experience both elevating and disquieting feelings and the opportunity to sort out some of them.  I love you Beethoven.

When have you been moved by music? How would you put that experience into words? I invite you to leave a reply and share your musical memories. You are also welcome to send an e mail and share this post with friends and colleagues.