September 19, 2014

the bringer of jollity

Outside the Houston Symphony in 2009.

It's funny how how a song can speak even when there aren't any words. Or maybe it does have words, but it says so much more than the lyrics themselves.

One of the songs that tells me a whole story, without having a single audible word, is the movement "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" from Gustav Holst's "The Planets."

I get pretty dorky when I listen to this song. If you ever have the chance to hang with me after I've had a couple of glasses of wine before playing this song (which will inevitably happen if you share enough bottles of wine with me) I'm a lot like Antonio Salieri in Amadeus.


"And then suddenly... high above it, an oboe..."

When I was in high school, every time I heard the song--or any movement from "The Planets"--I thought about marching band. The year before I went to high school, the marching band won state with an arrangement of "The Planets." For the next four years, that success was a measure we all aspired for, even though we never again achieved it.

At the time, I'll admit my favorite movement was actually "Venus, the Bringer of Peace." It was beautiful, whimsical, and everything I wanted from a song at that overly emotional time of my life. (You've all been in high school, right? Yikes.)

Years later, while watching the third episode in series one of Sherlock when Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman get into a fight with a suspect in the middle of a planetarium I was able to smugly turn to the kittens and say, "That's "Mars." From 'The Planets.' By Holst."

The more you know, right?

The real reason this song strikes accord from me happened about five years ago. When I was 23, I moved to Houston. While I was there, my dad came to visit a couple of times. Each time, we'd go listen to the Houston Symphony.

I was pretty excited on that first trip. I'd never been to the symphony in Houston, it was downtown--a place I seldom ventured to--and I loved "The Planets." This particular performance was going to be extra exciting, because footage from NASA satellite images would play in the background.

The Houston Symphony warms up.

As we waited for the curtain to open, so to speak, Dad and I discussed what we were most looking forward to in the performance. He told me he was excited for "Jupiter," because it reminded him of my mom. When I prodded him a little more, he explained that in the early days of their relationship he made her a mix tape. It was 1985 and that was the epitome of how you told someone you loved them. He included "Jupiter" on the tape, because "it's how being with her made me feel."

I wasn't quite sure what that meant. Again, I knew the music, but I couldn't quite figure out how "Jupiter" could represent the feeling of falling in love.

So I listened extra carefully. For the first few minutes, I thought, "Okay, I guess it's pretty happy and light. That's sweet, I guess."

But then we hit 2:53.


It starts out smooth and slow and beautifully. It's hardly noticeable. Then more instruments join in. It grows louder and bolder and stronger. And pretty soon it fills every bit of you.

Just like falling in love.

That's when I "got it." That's when I understood why my dad put Gustav Holst's "Jupiter" on a mix tape for my mom. It's because it described falling in love without a single word.

Nerd that I am, I thought of "Jupiter" when I heard "Fire" by Augustana while binge-watching Friday Night Lights this past summer.
No it don't come easy.
No it don't come fast.
Lock me up inside your garden.
Take me to the riverside.
Fire, burning me up,
Desire, taking me so much
Higher, and leaving me whole.
Because that's what falling in love is like, right?

As a writer, so often I get caught up with adjectives and descriptors to explain the feelings of love. But sometimes you can say so much more with so little. Sometimes the connotation itself, the story behind it, is just as important.

I try to keep that in mind now when I write about love.


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