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Category: Inspiration / Topics: Arts & Entertainment Attitudes Circumstances, Life Events Coping History Inspiration Music Optimal Aging

What Mozart Did for Me Last Week, Thanks, Amadeus

by Garrison Keillor

Posted: November 17, 2022

Mozart had a right to share his suffering with us by writing music that makes us sick but instead he was an usher, directing us into a joyful realm of playfulness in which we become happier than we had intended to be…

I went to a play on Broadway this week, a matinee, and was impressed by the usher in our aisle downstairs who was elaborately kind to everyone, managing a stream of elderly customers confused by row numbers, pointing them to seats while maintaining pleasant small talk, reminding them to turn off their phones, directing them to washrooms (downstairs) or to the counter that offers hearing devices, handing out programs — his competence was stunning and dramatic — and he did it against the clock and never was caustic though he had a right to be, dealing with the dither.

As for the play, I guess it was trying to be a tragedy but there was a good deal of O MY GOD WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN overacting and professional actors trying out their Euro accents, working to make their part GRIPPING and the silences MEANINGFUL and after half an hour I checked out and thought about other things.

The rest of the crowd was working hard to appreciate the play because, though dull, it was rather dark and so people around me watched intensely as if this were Drama 101 and afterward we’d divide up into discussion groups and they wanted to think up intelligent things to say about the threat of fascism in our own time, and not just “I didn’t care for it” but I felt no need to be the smartest person in the audience, failure holds no fear for me, I’ve been there repeatedly, so I checked out of the play and thought about Mozart.

The night before the play, I’d gone to a concert with a Mozart violin concerto in it and found it astounding, the lightness and gaiety, the brilliance of the playing, the sheer beauty Mozart put in the hands of the soloist, and all this in the 18th century when a cruel aristocracy sat on thrones, abysmal poverty was the rule, men were hanged for thievery, and people perished miserably from the ignorance of infection and antiseptics.

Mozart was sick for a great deal of his life, suffering smallpox, pneumonia, rheumatism, typhoid fever, his wife Constanze agonizing over him, and died at 35 but it was his gift to create beauty and to entertain. People are still laughing at the jokes in The Marriage of Figaro. The violin concerto I heard was joyful and the violinist made it clear that he loved it too. He was finding expressive freedom within a strict form, the best of the 18th century brought to the 21st.

Fall is all about mortality. The leaves are falling, the sky is gray, winter is coming. Fall has inspired countless men to suffer a fatal attraction and quit their jobs, leave their families, and run away with Rhonda Rainbow and enjoy an ecstatic week in a Best Western and be dumped and die of an overdose of toilet bowl cleanser. I know good men who were teenage football heroes and sacrificed themselves for the glory of Central High on autumn afternoons and now, thanks to numerous concussions, sit in a locked ward and watch golf tournaments on TV.

I was saved by physical cowardice. I never went in for shoving, never threw my body against someone else’s except in the case of a few women and then very gently after asking permission.

The play ended and the audience gave it a standing ovation of course and I put on my coat. The usher stood by the door, thanking people for coming, wishing them a pleasant day, and also pointing out a treacherous step and preventing them from falling and crashing headfirst into the brick wall and suffering a hematoma and winding up in the ER with drunks and lunatics. I don’t remember much of the play but I remember his kindness. I wonder if he’s maybe an unemployed actor who’s thrown himself into the ushering role and found his true calling.

Mozart had a right to share his suffering with us by writing music that makes us sick but instead he was an usher, directing us into a joyful realm of playfulness in which we become happier than we had intended to be. And he gave that violinist the chance to be so brilliant, we brought him back for three bows. Then we got a cab and resumed the struggle. I went home and worked on my stand-up act for New Jersey Saturday night and did 90 minutes and everyone left happy. Me, too.

Garrison Keillor © 11.15.22

America's story teller, known for his heartland wit and wisdom, and for many years as the voice of Prairie Home Companion on NPR.

Posted: November 17, 2022

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