I’ve been planning a wedding for only 19 days, but it feels like five months. The decisions to be made seem endless. My father, as is the custom of some, offered me cash to have it all over and elope.
“Five thousand dollars,” my mother reported.
By the time I saw my father that day, his figures had changed. “I’ll give you three thousand dollars to elope,” he said.
I shook my head. I’m not the get-married-in-secret type. I’m too fond of a big demonstration. I want to wear a white gown and come down the aisle to the best piece of music in history, Beethoven’s Fifth.
I learned Beethoven’s Fifth in music appreciation class my senior year of college. It took a special person to teach me, reared on rock ’n’ roll, to love Beethoven better than I love Billy Joel. Before that class, I did not believe wordless music could do anything to me but make me feel ticklish and annoyed.
Professor Jackson, the woman burdened with the task of teaching enjoyment, even looked like music. Young and lovely, she had dark hair and pale skin and wore black and white. She grinned while she listened to the songs and described the lives of composers. She crammed our course with stories and sounds. When she turned on the music, we could feel it pulse through the classroom walls. We knew then that those composers, whatever else they were, couldn’t possibly be dead when their music was so alive.
While the Fifth played, Professor Jackson rejoiced with her arms, using them to trace the movements. If she had lived back then, she would have married Beethoven, who was rejected many times by lovers for his passion and unkemptness. “He needed someone to make a hot meal and talk loudly into his ear,” she said. “He died shaking his fist, waking up from a coma after a thunderclap.”
The piece played on. “Music is the ability to rearrange pieces of ourselves and connect things, without words,” she told us, “A tremendous gift that we’ve been given by the Lord. Aural order can make you want to kill a test, to fall in love, to buy clothes.”
She handed out pictures of his face. I surreptitiously took two.
The rebel in me loves Beethoven’s emphasis on free thought and his loud expressions of triumph. Beethoven’s Fifth is a musical sentence with a beginning and an end, which swerves out of its key into foreign territory just so it can come home again. It does everything with a boom. I listened to it repeatedly while I earned my D-plus the second time I took physics. Whenever the song ended I grew angry because whatever came next on the playlist seemed pansy in comparison.
But now I am beginning to second-guess my glorious choice. Perhaps the song fits physics exams better than weddings. I listen to its menacing “DUN-DUN-DUUUN” opening and can’t envision even myself entering to something so dramatic. Besides that, too many people recognize the opening measures as a signifier of impending doom. So I might be kissing my favorite processional goodbye. But first I will shake my fist. And I will not elope.