I was reading a thing here on campus about how no piece of music ever sounds the same way twice, even when it’s played by the same musician or sung by the same singer. This seems fairly intuitive, except that my background in choir was all about trying to make things sound the same way every time we did it. There was a lot of counting and paying attention to timing, a lot of emphasis on uniformity. So this was one of those statements that made me pause for a moment.
It’s not that I didn’t know this, it’s just that I’d never heard it voiced. And the timing of this particular sentiment is interesting, because I have a playlist with several iterations of the same song. The song figures heavily in the manuscript I’m working on at the moment – it’s a song called O Magnum Mysterium, written by Tomas Luis de Victoria in the 16th century.
In all my years in choir, I never actually had the opportunity to sing this song. I only discovered it as an adult, long after medical issues had pretty much destroyed my singing voice. But listening can be just as powerful as vocalizing, so I’m content to have discovered it at all.
Brains being what they are, my thoughts jumped from the idea of variation in the same piece of music to my playlist of variation of O Magnum Mysterium, and then to my story. I discovered something in that thought – that when we fall in love with something, sometimes we attempt to replicate it as closely as possible. That particular drive doesn’t come up in my story in any sort of overt way, but at the core, some of the characters are engaged in a meaningless sort of repetition, in an attempt to capture and hold on to something they felt, and to relive it in different ways.
Maybe that means we compulsively date a certain type of person, or develop a fetish, or chase a certain narrative, or indulge over and over in a fantasy that never grows tiresome, or listen to the same song over and over, or return to the same place again and again…there are so many ways that we replicate, that we fall into patterns.
I chase patterns. I started off in a field that looked for themes and underlying meanings, and ended up in one that does exactly the same thing, but in a completely different way. So I suppose that’s what I keep repeating – I fell in love with the idea that there’s an order within the randomness, trends within the chaos, meaning within the mess. And so that’s what I chase – those moments where I can see some sort of interconnectivity.
Though I have to admit, I find variations exciting. Retellings, new versions, updates, interpretations…I love them. It’s why I can watch the same Shakespeare plays over and over – because each time, it’s different. Each company infuses its own life into the story. It’s why I can read the same books over and over – because as I grow and change, the story changes, because my understanding of the story changes. So while there’s repetition there, each experience is a little different than the last.
A good example? When I first read Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez years ago, I hated the ending. Like, vehemently hated it. I reread it fairly recently and now…I understand the ending. I still don’t think it’s the greatest ending of all time, but it makes sense to me. I’ve changed since I last read it, so even though every word is exactly the same, the story was, in some ways, completely new.
So I thought about that. How sometimes we come back to the same things, but those things take on new meanings throughout our lives.
The narratives we chase and the feelings we seek out can change as we do. We can repeat, yet also evolve. That’s how we’re able to fall in love, over and over, throughout our lives, with different things. With other people, with places, with experiences, with books and music and art.
Repetition doesn’t always mean stagnation.