Earlier this week, as I was scrolling through TikTok, a creator popped up who stitches funny videos, makes a witty remark, and then tells an interesting fact. I can’t remember the fact he told–something about a celebrity who never wore shoes. But it immediately made me think of all the tidbits my mother’s told me throughout my life. Words of wisdom and deep thought. Verses and phrases I’ve carried with me since I was a little girl. She’s a student of wisdom, my mother. Philosophy, Christianity, Humanity and how ideas and beliefs have commingled over centuries.
When I was very young, she taught me about a German boy who grew up in a family of musicians. He had an intense routine. Organ, violin, viola and other instruments difficult for his small hands. Oftentimes, he was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and plunked at the keyboard. His early years were hard. Late nights, early mornings. He cried, thought long and hard about quitting. But he stuck with it, kept going. Music, as it turned out, was buried deep in his marrow.
His name was Ludwig van Beethoven.
Most of us know at least a little bit about the boy prodigy who became one of the greatest composers of all time. As Beethoven’s life–and fame–progressed, however, he began to lose his hearing. There’s all kind of speculation as to why this happened. Beethoven told his friends it was because of a heated argument he had with a singer. Depression sank in. In the dark of his apartments, he wept. If he couldn’t hear music, how could he possibly compose? How could he go on, fulfill the legacy he’d worked so hard for? He even wrote a letter to his brothers, confessing his thoughts of suicide. His art was his life, the one thing that brought him real joy.
Sound familiar, dear artist? Keep reading.
For Beethoven, hearing loss turned into an inability to register almost nothing but low tones and sudden loud sounds. But he was determined. He was born for this. Destined to write and connect with people through his music. He wrote to his friend that he intended to “seize Fate by the throat; it shall certainly not crush me completely.”
Beethoven went on to write an opera and six more symphonies, including the melancholic Moonlight Sonata. He sawed off the legs of his piano, laid down, pressed his ear to the floor, and he played. Why? Wouldn’t it be amazing to sit down with him today, ask what it was like writing music as his hearing abandoned him? But I imagine the answer to the why is probably what you, the artist, are thinking right now.
Because he couldn’t not write. It was either writing or insanity. Writing or death.
Dear Artist, seize Fate by the throat. Don’t let Fear ride alongside you for this journey. Use what you have. Create what you feel, what you know. In the early nineteenth century, Beethoven wrote on one of his musical sketches, “Let your deafness no longer be a secret — even in art.” Tap into your life experiences, learn and use the beauty of vulnerability. You were made to feel deeply, to connect with other souls in a way that outlasts life itself.
Saw the legs off your piano and keep going.
xoxo – Alyssia