Essay: Adagio Power

Jun 5, 2020

I am stirring onions in a frying pan when I hear a piece of music on the radio.  It has a brooding, soaring melody that seems to express all the joy and sorrow I have ever felt.


Turning off the onions, I sit down at my kitchen table to listen, convinced that this music has the power to change my life, to supply all the missing pieces, to redeem the losses and renew the dreams.

And I am poised with pencil and paper to get the title and composer:  “Adagio for Strings,” the announcer says, “by Samuel Barber.”

The very next day I run out and buy the record and cannot wait to play it for the man I am dating.  “You’ve got to hear this,” I exclaim, “It will change your life.”

He listens politely but does not exclaim, and I am reminded how deeply personal music is—or any other kind of bliss.  And if it’s authentic—the music or the bliss—it has a kind of staying power.

Which is why, all these years later, the “Adagio for Strings” is still changing my life.  It has not supplied all the missing pieces—but it consoles me for what is missing—and that might be the greater gift.