As a child, I listened eagerly to the nightly news, one hour in the evening, felt well-informed. After 9-11, a national inflection point, news “anytime” seemed important. Today, selectivity is my new mantra. “News” is often political pablum, presented hysterically, cyclist on a high wire, this day our last. That is how – this weekend – my choice was between angry Bernie Sanders or peaceful Joseph Haydn.
Outdoing errands, a morning “news” show replayed itself, and I tuned in. Spitting from my radio was that old, sad, sour socialist, chomping on his anger, filled with resentment about capitalism – the sort that made him rich – showcasing his liberal guilt, boasting about spending our money, not attractive.
Every time a female host tried to ask him a question about runaway costs in pending legislation, he cut her off, refused to answer, shouted that a few trillion was better than more trillion, so bankruptcy was a bargain, socialism sensible, her question irrelevant. He rudely imagining she enjoyed his arrogance.
I switched to an auxiliary channel, Bluetooth to Haydn, and was instantly happier. Haydn never disappoints. Today, he offered a flight on swallow wings, up and down, light and fanciful, Divertimento Number One, in B-flat. If you have never heard it, dial it up – or dozens of others – to forget the world.
Haydn, of course, was Beethoven’s teacher, influence on Schubert, Mendelsohn, and Brahms, and a great friend of Mozart’s, another cheerful composer for heavy times. Haydn was born in 1732, lived to 1809. Thinking on that, he lived through the American and French Revolutions, although he never got here.
Much could be said about Haydn to warm the soul. He was devoted to classical music, called “father of harmony,” of symphony, string quartet, affectionately known as “Papa Haydn.” His music is, by turns, cerebral, sensitive, patriotic, filled with meaning, then lilting, playful, a reservoir of cheering peace.
The irony is that, as in our times, war and worry were everywhere – all news, all the time. While he was a patriot, drawn from Vienna, he traveled Europe, lived in London, found solace in the countryside – and also playing and composing music, teaching the truths he knew, tempering sadness with resilience.
Times were unruly, but Haydn changed the channel, created his own channel, and, doing so, changed the world. Even when illness and age overtook him, as Napoleon overtook Vienna, he would play his “Emperor’s Hymn” and find joy in the simple sound and stirring words. See, Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser.
But we live in our time, and he in is, so I flipped back to news – thinking I might miss something of consequence, and what did I get? More of the marauding Mr. Sanders, still yelling at the female news anchor, spraying her set with dogged demagoguery, now spilling into my car, getting all over everything.
Sanders was on about illegal immigration not being illegal, working-class not needing to work, endless spending, the planet ending, and all the words he could squeeze into one mic before cut off for cause.
Through Sanders’ nonstop rant, I wondered whether he would have so treated Walter Cronkite, Howard K. Smith, or David Brinkley, whether he knew how cacophonous and ugly he sounded, out of harmony.
I returned to Haydn and instantly felt better. Symphony 94 was up, and up it was, lifting me to heights, reminding me that peace, prayer, and being there was invariably better than Sanders’ bitter blather.
Now, I was almost convinced that news mattered less, or what passed as news was generally not when the thought occurred to me that this was a national program, so perhaps I should check in once more. Sure enough, Sanders was still at it – now banging on the high keys. Anti-defense, save the planet, sky is falling, money makes it better, everything “irreparable,” except debt, which is acceptable, now a breath!
Oh my, I thought, that poor man is going to have a heart attack, or stroke, no joke. He is all over the place, saliva filling his jowls, words tumbling out faster than he can form thoughts, fear, and loathing, lots and lots. That poor man needs Haydn!
Having thought it, I knew too my radio was a one-way affair, no chance the old socialist would hear my advice, so paused long enough to catch him saying he was “telling” again, and the trillions of dollars in other people’s money he wanted to spend was “not enough,” and that was enough for me.
I returned to Haydn, confirmed in my conviction that what once was news, that nightly survey of facts valuable to most Americans, along with the shared assumption that leaders were responsible, accountable, and tended to harmony, history, and tradition, not froth, folly, perdition – was old hat.
Today, we confront a daily choice – be stirred to hysteria by those intent on pushing panic, crisis, and centralization of power in the name of survival, or think for ourselves, selecting news sources with discretion, and know when to change the channel, and just enjoy some Haydn.
Sometimes, a crisis is not a crisis, passing time not worth panic and life not as tenuous, turbulent, or tough as politicians and media muckets make it. Haydn lived in rougher times, with less convenience, youth in poverty, never felt sorry for himself, even calmed Vienna’s children as Napoleon approached.
Then, in a footnote worth recalling in our tempestuous times, Haydn was – in effect – proved right. A month before he died, having thoughtfully calmed others mid-war, a little miracle happened.
Far from persecution, Haydn was honored. Conflict over, in May of 1809, a French cavalry officer appeared at his door. Admittedly, the officer was an admirer. With respect, he sang an aria from Haydn’s “The Creation,” to the great and cheering composer.
Sometimes panic and hysteria are best left aside, calm, caring, and harmony the better choice. News of the day matters. But given a choice between Bernie Sanders and Joseph Haydn, Haydn wins – always.
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