Isolation Doesn’t Have to be Bad

Today is the anniversary of the death of one of my favorite classical composers, Ludwig van Beethoven.

Born in 1770, he died March 26, 1827.

Certainly you have heard that Beethoven went deaf in his later years. He reportedly lost his hearing completely around 1816, 11 years before he died. His hearing impairment began, however, in 1796 when he was but 26 years old.

In 1801, Beethoven wrote to and confided in a lifelong friend about his condition:

“Dear Wegeler: I certainly do feel better and stronger, but my ears are buzzing and ringing perpetually day and night. I can with truth say my life is wretched. For nearly two years past, I have avoided all society because I find it impossible to say to people, I am deaf. In any other profession, this might be tolerable but in mine such a condition is frightful. Besides, what would my enemies say to this, and they are not few in number. To give you some idea of my extraordinary deafness, in the theater, I am obliged to lean close up against the orchestra in order to understand the actors. I hear none of the high notes of instruments or singers. It is astonishing that in conversation some people never seem to observe this. I often can scarcely hear a person if speaking low. I can distinguish the tones, but not the words, and yet I feel it intolerable if anyone shouts to me. Heaven alone knows how it is to end. Farewell. Your Beethoven.”  Source, Beethoven-Haus Bonn.

At that time, Beethoven was 60% deaf and experienced perpetual buzzing and ringing in his ears day and night. Yet, also in 1801, Beethoven finished his Piano Sonata #14 in C# minor “Quasi una fantasia,” arguably his most famous piano sonata and one of the most recognized works in all of musical history.

We know this Beethoven sonata better as Moonlight Sonata.

Moonlight Sonata has long been my go-to song when I am feeling stressed, worried, sad or just need a pick-me-up. It’s also been my go-to song when I long to experience something delightful and happy.

While I enjoy listening, I prefer playing. The attached video is today’s version and recording.

In all his trials, afflictions and struggles, Ludwig van Beethoven created some of the world’s most beautiful music. Through pain, perpetual noise and what must have been true loneliness, he never gave up. He never stopped creating. He never ceased trying. He never deserted his passion.

Beethoven said, “To play without passion is inexcusable.”

Feeling compelled to self-isolate out of embarrassment or shame and not wanting anyone to learn of what he considered a socially unacceptable weakness and perhaps professional suicide, Beethoven became somewhat of a hermit and never realized the familial and social standing he longed for. While he excelled in one passion, as a composer and musician, perhaps he lost out on another, relationships.

Today, most of us find ourselves in some form of isolation, whether self-imposed or mandated, whether we’re healthy or sick, whether we like it or not. What will you do during this time? How will you spend this time?

Will you squander it away playing video games and watching meaningless television? Will you isolate yourself even further and spend all your time without personal interaction with others, even when they’re in the same house as you? Will you emerge feeling empty and lonely?

Or, will you use this time, however long it may last, to build lasting relationships with family and friends (even if remotely), to study something new, to read a classic book, to work on a favorite hobby or to find new ways to cook simple meals using few ingredients?

Just as I love playing my piano, find what you love, your passion, and work on it. Don’t end the Great Isolation of 2020 wishing you had passed the time differently. Make the most of your time – work, love, play, learn, grow.

But most of all, spend time with your families. Get to know each other again. Help each other find and develop talents. Grow with each other. Talk. Laugh. Cry. Rejoice. Serve. Work. Cook. Exercise. Learn.

And, with Beethoven, don’t do it without passion!