Duet For One

There is a wonderful little violin work by Niccolò Paganini called Duet for One. I first heard about it as I was listening to an equally wonderful podcast called Classical Classroom. If you haven’t checked out the podcast or the piece, you should do both.

Rachel Barton Pine, who plays this piece magically herself, described the technical skills needed to play this piece as “like patting your head and rubbing your stomach times one thousand”. Interestingly, one of the reasons that Paganini himself could write and perform pieces like this that were so technically difficult was because he had Marfan Syndrome, which lent a remarkable suppleness and dexterity to his joints and long fingers and therefore enhanced his ability to reach and stretch and master his instrument. That is another story for another day.

This piece, played by one performer on one violin, quickly sounds to the listener like a duet between a guitar and a violin, thus the title. The composition is crafted to fool us into thinking that we are hearing two things at once, though the sounds that are reaching our ears come from only one person playing one instrument. It’s a remarkable feat and well worth your time to listen to it.

We do this ourselves in the modern world, don’t we? No, not composing astounding musical compositions, but fooling the world, and sometimes even ourselves, into thinking that we are two different people. I can think of no place that better illustrates this than the world of social media.

Take Facebook for example.

All of us (present company included, I’m afraid I must admit) post things online that are exciting, different, flashy, colorful, out of the ordinary, and designed to capture the imagination of those who might glance our way. We are, sometimes justifiably, proud of what we do, the people we hang out with, the places we go, and the things we do. We want to share, to amaze, to educate, to notify others that we are exciting, funny, adventurous, dynamic people. The glamour, the food, the exotic places, the clothes, the cars-all tend to make us look like we are constantly on the go, with day after day of excitement in our lives and never a dull moment to negotiate.

Our normal lives?

Hotdogs, microwave pizza, movies on Netflix, and falling into bed exhausted by ten PM.

Oh, make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with Netflix (House of Cards fans unite!), and an early bedtime is as  wonderful as partying until dawn when the day has been long and difficult.

We are, most of us,  normal people living normal lives who sometimes feel compelled to present ourselves as the most melodious of duets, when the single line of our lives is as wondrous a melody as God in heaven has ever composed.

Duet for one, or solo performance of a lifetime?

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