Exploring Chopin in Watzek’s vinyl collection

HAVE YOU ever really explored the library? Probably not extensively, but I know there are some who, caffeinated and depraved, can be seen wandering the deeper extremities of the library on a lap between vicious waves of homework; perhaps they share a sympathetic glance with a passerby, recognizable as one of the other poor souls who haunts the library late nights and early mornings.
I know these folks; I often am one. On one such recent roving of mine, while I floated through the aisles, book-bleary, investigating the less-populated alcoves and cubbies of our Watzek, I found a unique shelf which I hadn’t given any attention in the past. It’s in the back of the first floor, past the reference desk – by the “stacks,” as they’re referred to. The shelf is full of records. Records, admittedly, of relatively little diversity. They are primarily classical records – which seems fitting – with a broad array of classic classical recordings. I picked a couple records, vaguely familiar, and decided to bring my homework down and listen while I finished my readings.
Conveniently enough, there’s a turntable just around the corner from the record shelf. Among the records I’d picked out, I found Chopin’s 24 Preludes, which I proceeded to brush clean, slip carefully into place, and then explore the palisade tunnels of its resonance. I began, firmly set on finishing my work for the day while I listened; but that didn’t go as planned. I don’t think I read a page. How could I have? Chopin’s Preludes are viscerally evocative. The dark melds with the light, and, in that chiaroscuro, the listener is thrown into a vortex, turning and tumbling through pains, passions, and revelations conjured by the minute and delicate finger strokes.
The effect is captivating and yet not quite hypnotic: each prelude is an ebb and flow, rolling in and out of existence in constant, cyclical reincarnation. And in the final decaying seconds of an ending prelude, there are moments when the harmonies turn dissonant, chaotic, momentarily disoriented; moments on the fringe of a daydream when the glass begins to shatter. At these tenuous moments, as the eyes open and the wrinkled, suffocating claws of the library begin once again to enclose their strangle grip; as the once-sun fades to a melancholy overcast, just then the next prelude begins.
The Preludes come together to form a whole, a bizarre and powerful mosaic, and served me as a perfunctory psychic reset. The music itself rejects control; it demands that the listener loosen the reigns and surrender oneself to the melodies. Chopin’s preludes functioned, in this case, as a reminder that control is fantastical and the quickest grasp that can be held on it is a comfortable recognition of its complete absence. For the duration of the record, I completely forgot about my homework – for better or worse – and spent an unusually stress-free chunk of time in the library.
So, I left the shelf of records not with the hamfists and general inaptitude with which I had come, but with fingers fit for pen and paper and book, and eyes sharpened by more than coffee and Red Bull.
I put the record back. It was strange to get back into the swing and mindset of ferocious studying. Walking down the hall, through the center of the library and up the stairs, I wore the dazed and disoriented mask that one wears after recently waking from a slightly-too-long nap or shuffling out of the theater under the florescent cannons after an emotionally intense film. It was as if I’d taken a break from time with that record. And, though I lost 45 minutes, I consider them among the more enjoyable I’ve spent in the library.
In those 45 minutes I lived and forgot my responsibilities 24 times and I remembered 24 meanings. What a strange experience was my time with the preludes in the lower corners of the library. Did I regret the break from productivity? Probably at least a little bit. Was it worth it? Maybe. But, if you spend a lot of time in the library, anywhere in the ballpark of 45 minutes is pocket change – so, why not?

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