Years ago, when I was a research assistant at a university in Chicago, I worked in this old building. The long hours there had one saving grace — my adviser's piano in the library. I had never seen one before, let alone know how to play it. But it sure sounded grand when people played it for relaxation.
One late Saturday night, I was in the library when one of the graduate students tiptoed in. Now this student was a man well into his 30s and in serious trouble. His research was at a dead end, and after six long years he was at risk of being kicked out of school with nothing to show for it. With a large family to support and zero prospects for a good job, he was understandably at his wit's end. He walked around the whole day extremely nervous, expecting the axe to fall sooner rather than later.
That night, this man first peeked into our adviser's office to ensure it was empty and then sat down at the piano to play. His eyes closed and his head bent low, his thin long fingers flew over the keys as the beautiful, magical music of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata filled the room. With all the turmoil in his life, the last thing I expected to hear was the lilting melody of this particular piece. But it was the most glorious and uplifting music I had heard in a long time. It was as though he was musically calming himself, "It’s ok. I can do this." When he was done, he got up and quietly left the room. I never saw him play again.
Now there is every need to say that he worked very hard and turned things around. He graduated a year later. I like to think that I was lucky enough to have a front row seat to that turning point in his life.
Now, years later, I still don't know much about music. But I feel the same rush of energy and soaring hope whenever I hear that sonata. I catch myself thinking that even when times are tough, I can turn things around with perseverance. Life, as is music, is what you make of it.
With a Perspective, this is Bhaskar Sompalli.
Bhaskar Sompalli is a scientist. He lives in the East Bay.