Last Saturday, my orchestra had its first rehearsal for our upcoming concert that will feature, among other things, movements from Holst's The Planets, which inspired the following opinion piece in today's Small Town Newspaper.
I didn't make it to the rehearsal, one of probably only two or three I have missed in my nine years with this group, because I felt absolutely icky. I can't think of another adjective to describe it—sinus pressure, light headedness, slight fever on and off, general lack of interest in being alert. I felt marginally tolerable until I stood up, and then everything ached, and I only wanted to sit back down again. For lunch, I made chicken salad on a croissant with muenster cheese, and I looked at the plate and sighed. It looked fine, sounded great, but I couldn't work up enough energy to be interested—I only made the thing because it was noon, and I thought I should eat. I hated missing a rehearsal, but I'll be fine by this coming weekend for the next round.
On Saturday, April 10, the Tuscarawas Philharmonic will be performing some of the movements from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” a suite written to explore each planet’s attributes. For example, Mars, the Bringer of War, sounds mighty, a force to be reckoned with; and Venus, the Bringer of Peace, is a testament to the power of serenity.
As a member of the horn section, I have been diligently practicing my part in preparation for the concert, and I have paid close attention to the emotion in each movement—looking for the magic in Uranus and something mystical in Neptune. But I have been especially attuned to the changing mood I hear in Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age, as Holst described the big ball of gas and rock.
The movement begins gently with something unseen plodding slowly as if it has all the time in the world. It might as well be picking daisies for all of its meandering. That does seem to be how you view time and the aging process when you’re young—you are invincible and maybe even immortal, and your steps are light and lively.
But as this creature, the thing that is bringing old age to you, gets closer, he begins to march faster and heavier, and the ground shakes beneath his feet. He packs more power with his steps, as if to suggest the body his feet support is a behemoth whose arrival is imminent and unavoidable.
His footfalls beat out the seconds on the clock, a colossal walking pendulum. And you realize you don’t have all the time in the world after all. You are neither invincible nor immortal, and you can only wait for what sounds like an angry giant to appear at the ridgeline of the hill behind you and show his face.
There is a moment in the music where the heavy feet seem to be running, as if Saturn is in a hurry. You feel compelled to keep a wary eye on the crest of the hill because even though you can’t spot him just yet, you certainly know he’s coming, and you can’t outrun him.
This piece of music is frightening at times, but then the Bringer of Old Age finally appears, and the looming threat dissipates—it seems old age isn’t as bad as you thought. He actually has some peace and tested wisdom tucked away in his bulky arms along with the weary bones, the fading memories and the graying hair. When you take all this so-called giant hands you, you realize that even though there is still plenty you’d like to accomplish in life, you can go about your business with your priorities in line so that you have more to do but less to prove.
As the music ends, all that intimidating foot stomping is replaced with a steady pace and the easy chimes of a reliable clock. Some might see that as a winding down or a giving in, but I see it more as an acceptance of age with honor and dignity—not something to be concealed but embraced. The clock is still ticking; it’s just not wearing steel-toed boots or wielding a club.
In two short years, I’ll be 50, and with a life expectancy of 80-plus, I realize I’m already beyond the halfway mark. During introspective moments, I think about the missed opportunities and unrealized goals that marked the uphill years, and I equate those with the threatening steps of the unseen bringer of old age. Focusing on those heavy steps only causes unnecessary worry; and if my interpretation of this music is correct, I still have opportunities to grab hold of and goals to achieve.
So, I stand facing that crest of the hill with this huffing and puffing fellow climbing quicker than he seemed to be moving a decade ago. I stand with feet firm, chin up, shoulders back, hands on hips. And to him, I say show your face, you lumbering beast, and let’s see what you’ve got. I bet I can match it with resolve and grace. And I hope I can ease into my latter years with the same honor and dignity that Holst wove into Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age.