Breaking with Beethoven
It was my first concert at Minneapolis Orchestra Hall since COVID. And I was excited.
After all, it was Beethoven. And not just any Beethoven piece—his 5th Symphony. You know, the one with the opening rift [Dah Dah Dah, Dah!] that most people recognize in a heartbeat.
Yes, that one.
After finding our seats, I casually perused the program to read the show notes and backstory of this historical piece.
And then I saw it. An announcement that the first half of tonight’s concert would be featuring another piece by Beethoven—Grosse fug—and that the orchestra will be joined live onstage by the Twin Cities-based BRKFST Dance Company.
And they’d be breakdancing.
I’m sorry, what? Did I just read something about breakdancing and Beethoven in the same sentence? And at the same time…?!?
Uhhh, yeahh. I did.
You know when you’re on a web page or phone app and it suddenly freezes? That’s what my brain did. I froze. I just couldn’t comprehend the combination of my beloved Beethoven paired with pop locks, top rocks, and head spins (break dance moves).
I just couldn’t.
I was irritated. Confused. Resistant.
Wait…, me?? The guy who grew up loving music, dancing, the arts, and the freedom to express oneself by any means possible?
Yes, that one. But for some reason, I just couldn’t get my mind around this. When it comes to classical music, I’m a traditionalist. Even listening to Stravinsky is a stretch for me.
And I want to keep it that way. So don’t mess with my Beethoven.
I closed my program, crossed my arms, and tried to soften the crease that had now appeared between my eyebrows.
The orchestra finished their warm-up, the conductor introduced the special performance, and then the dancers—some in baggy jeans, caps, high top sneakers and the like—sauntered onto the stage.
Hmpf. I just sat there like an old man on the front porch getting ready to yell at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn.
Then the piece began.
With a single note from a violin, a dancer’s hand slowly arose. And then with another note, another hand. And then with a few notes in harmony, the dancers began to move together, then one at a time—in perfect synch with the notes—following each note as if their bodies were instruments.
Within 30 seconds, my eyebrow crease was gone. Within 60 seconds, my face had softened. Within 90 seconds, my eyes started to light up. And within 120 seconds, a small grin began to appear on my face.
And the swirling, twisting, jumping, spinning, and contorting went on for 17 minutes.
This exhibition wasn’t only acceptable, it was amazing.
And when it was over, I joined the rest of the audience in a standing ovation. The entire piece was powerful, poignant, and exquisite. And I loved it.
Looking back on this experience, what surprised me the most was my initial reaction. I’d become so upset when this strange and unwelcomed concoction didn’t make sense.
But then I realized why.
We’ve been through SO many changes with the pandemic that the last thing anyone wants right now is MORE change. Our appetites for stability are insatiable.
But changes will continue to come, and we will handle them. We just need to hang in there and let them happen. And like this example the changes can be, and often are, a good thing.
But you’ve got to have faith. (Thank you, George Michael, for that reminder).
This experience showed me that if I could go from grumpy to grateful in 2 minutes, then I can certainly handle whatever life hands me. We all can.
And maybe if “breaking with Beethoven” can become a joyous experience, I might be getting tickets to “disco with Dvorák” when that comes around.
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg
Feeling disconnected? Uninspired? Tired of defending your lawn? Then join me and a group of other intentional co-creators for ReconnectYOU—a one-day self-discovery experience on October 8th in Minneapolis. More information and register at reconnectyou.net