Written by 6:56 pm Art Is Essential

Art is Essential Essays vol. 4

Writers on the art that matters to them

Among the Sounds of Night

Maggie Wang

I am supposed to be packing my belongings to move to a new house, but instead I find myself sprawled out on my bedroom floor, surrounded by sheet music. Among the piles of books and pamphlets bound in the same few shades of red and yellow and blue, my copy of Samuel Barber’s Excursions stands out. I flip the cover open and try to remember the last time I played them: years ago now, when I was still innocent and even my anger was carefree.

The picture that comes to me is different: standing in an abandoned underground station, breathing fog into the dark evening air. I could sing a thousand concerts here and never grow tired, I think. Agnus Dei, you take away the sin of the world. Grant us peace. The echo rings and rings and fades away like an unnoticed cloud on a moonless night. I let myself imagine that the silence after the end does not exist. For a moment, I do not need to breathe.

The night I finish my last essay for the semester, I stay up long after midnight, tracing my fingers over the page and then copying the outlines onto the keyboard. The window in the music room has no curtains; if a passer-by looked in, she might find me half-asleep at the keyboard, fumbling around in the blurry darkness after the light has burned itself out, dancing chromatics in a lucid dream. If she came back in the morning, she would wonder if I had danced myself to death.

I am a fool to imagine that I can read a poem about doomed love and not burn myself. I scribble the words on little pieces of scrap paper and fold them into birds, as if I could unlock poetry by watching them migrate. I imagine Zeffirelli copying the text onto his own pieces of paper and arranging them, rearranging them, like model ships on an untroubled map of the sea. Barber stands over his shoulder, smiling, as if comforted in knowing no age will wither these melodies.


Maggie Wang is an undergraduate student originally from Virginia.


Samuel Barber (1910 – 1981) was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The neo-Romantic composer wrote his first piece of music at 7 years old. Excursions, Op. 20was Barber’s first published solo piano piece. 

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