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Beethoven’s Silence

How silence and loss create connection.

Beethoven was completely deaf by the time he died. And he raged against his deterioration into deafness, smashing pianos and grieving his hearing loss.

But as I peer into his life, his situation holds great lessons.

"It seems a mystery," Arthur Brooks writes in his Washington Post op-ed, "that Beethoven became more original and brilliant as a composer in inverse proportion to his ability to hear his own — and others’ — music. But maybe it isn’t so surprising."

He would produce arguably the best music of his career after losing his hearing completely. He could hear neither the Ninth Symphony nor the standing ovation that met it after the performance.

During this snowy winter, I think about the two lessons from Beethoven: growing from loss of identity and embracing silence.

Beethoven had to navigate his loss of hearing that struck at the heart of who he was. It forced him to grow. He learned to respond by developing a new style, using different notes, and listening to the muse in his own head. He had no guarantee of success; he couldn't know his music would be cherished for hundreds of years. It had to be exasperating. He even threatened to end his life. But he grew into his limitations and created masterpieces through the struggles.

The silence, that especially comes during the winter snows on the East Coast this year, offers space to turn the volume down on the outside world and focus inward. It forces me to listen to the voice in my own head and offers space to sharpen my skills.

Beethoven lost his "greatest faculty" in his deafness and created Ode to Joy. We may find ourselves sitting at home dreaming of socialization instead of composing great symphonies, but let Beethoven inspire us to embrace the silence and grow to hear our own voice.