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Finlandia op. 26

Abby Stoker
mountain landscape at dawn.jpg

"Mountain Landscape At Dawn" Issac Dehaven

Music is a strange language. How can shapes on a page render a sound capable of transferring feelings? How can the lines form colors and temperatures you can hear? How can the dots and dashes translate into emotions you can listen to? I use this strange language daily. I hear these feelings, colors, and temperatures every time I play my instrument.


I open the doors to the school and the cold air creeps down my body. ​All I think about is the scary deep end I am about to be thrown in. My arms tingle and my muscles contract and stiffen. Panic, anxiety, and horror hit me all at once, and I instantly dread the next few hours.


Someone with a cheerful smile greets me five steps in. She directs me into another door.  Unfamiliar faces and noises swarm me. Uneasy, I pick out familiar sounds. I hear the warm timbre of French horns; their muffled melodic tunes stick out against the harsh blasts from the trumpets. I hear screeches from the clarinet’s high notes as they run up and down their scales and the wise but funny-sounding eight notes from the bassoons.


Scanning the space, I see my fellow instrumentalists and hear the breathiness of their notes ring throughout the room. When I sit down in my spot, I wrestle with the music and my stand. I unzip the cover of the long skinny case and flip open the latches. Opening the lid, gleaming back at me is a glossy silver instrument. Once put together, I shyly blow a steady stream of air through the silver tube and a delicate note softly echoes out the end. Settled enough, I take in the sight in front of me: an arc of seats that hold the most defining instruments of an orchestra—the strings.


On my left is a sea of violins. The small wooden instruments produce the most rustic, elegant, soft sound. Delicately, the musicians place their hands on the ends of the bows. The round ends of the violins nestle underneath their chins. At a slight angle, the bows gently glide on the taught strings and yield a tune. To the right of the violins are violas. Similar in the appearance of the violins but fatter. Lower than the violins they produce the mid-tones of the strings, like the altos of a choir. Alongside the violas are the cellos. They sound even lower than the violas, heavier, more majestic. I imagine a king and his echoes of authority. In the back, I hear the soft vibrations of the basses. The massive instruments sound small and low. Entranced by these instruments, I find myself lost in the noise.


With a few taps of the conductor’s baton, the room settles into silence. “Welcome to the Quad Cities Youth Philharmonic Orchestra,” the short man with the baton says. Unconsciously, everyone around me shuffles their feet. Confused, I follow. Must be an orchestra thing, I think.


I drown out the next part of his speech and all of a sudden an oboe is holding a note. Almost simultaneously, the strings take their bows to the frog and skate it across their strings. For a few short seconds, the whole string section produces the same humming sound. Then the pitch divides as the strings start tuning. Chaotic, but it still sounds graceful. The strings stop and the oboe plays again. This time members of my section bring their instruments to their mouths. The air goes through their instruments to produce a uniform sound. I fake it. I have no clue what’s going on. My instrument comes up to my mouth, I form my embouchure and barely make a draft of air through my flute.


The conductor starts to talk again, I still have no idea what his name is. He says some words and his hands raise. The violins and violas tuck their instruments underneath their chins. The cellos straighten their bodies and sit their cellos between their legs. I bring my flute up to my mouth preparing for I don’t know what. Mr. Conductor waves his arms and scales begin to form around me. Panicked, I move my fingers to act as though I know what’s going on.


Mr. Conductor stops after the last note of the scale. He instructs us to pull out some music. I shuffle through my papers in the folder. At the top of the page: “Finlandia Op. 26.” I scan the page making note of the time signature, the key signature, changes in tempo, key. I look at the rhythms, a collection of quarter notes, sixteenth notes. We begin to cite read the music. The brass open with a horrifying blast. As we continue playing, the music gets grimmer, harsh chords creating dissonance and tension—a turbulent and bitter melody. 


Toward the end of the piece, a serene and melodic hymn appears. The other woodwinds play the tune softly. I recognize it as a familiar song I’ve heard a lot while growing up: “Be Still My Soul.” In awe with this soft and graceful melody and the sound we are creating, I begin to lose myself in the sounds.


I hear the tension loosen. I hear the temperature rise. I hear the color turn warm.


I bring my flute up to my mouth, ready to add to the music. I delicately push air through my instrument and the same melody rings out the end. As the music lulls, so does my body. I feel the anxiety and horror of this new environment weaken. My rapid heart rate slows. My mind focuses on the sweet sounds.


The music stills my soul.


The ability music has for us to hear feelings, temperatures, and colors is riveting. Before I came to the orchestra, I never paid attention to music’s capacity to do so. Finlandia opened my ears. I heard the colors, the temperatures, the emotions. I heard discovery, a new passion, delight, and enjoyment. I heard home, belonging, achievement, and gratitude.

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