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COUNTDOWN
December 31, 2011
 
There will be fireworks in town again this year, launched from the parking lot ordinarily full of commuters' cars. As has become usual in recent years, we will not attend in person, but we should hear the thunder of them from our bedroom. Perhaps we will also see them from across town -- this being our first New Year's Eve in this house, I don't know for sure.

I maintained a certain distance from the thick of it on New Year's Eve at St. Clement's, as well, located as it is a scant two blocks from Times Square. Most New Yorkers I know make a point of being almost anywhere else but there on December 31st -- I think most of the revelers you see on television waiting for the ball to drop are from somewhere else. I even know people who rent out their midtown apartments for that night and use the money they make doing it to skip town.

I enjoy listening to other people's festivities from a slight remove. It puts me in mind of those agreeably jumbled evenings when my parents entertained and we children drifted off to sleep, lulled there by murmur of the adult voices downstairs. They were happy and I was happy: free to listen and think my own thoughts while other people bore the burden of talking. Or the times when we were visiting someone else's home, and were put to sleep on a pile of coats in a bedroom conscripted into closet duty, later to be carried out to the waiting car by our father. I have since learned that this practice has fallen out of favor, that it goes against current wisdom about the sleep practices appropriate for young children -- but I can testify that I found it exciting and fun.

And so I lie next to a sleeping husband on New Year's Eve with my earphones on, so I can hear the music countdown on WQXR. Mahler's "Resurrection" symphony is #3 on the hit parade -- it's hard for me to believe that it beat out Beethoven's 7th, but there it is. Let's see -- if the Mahler is #3 and they've already played Beethoven #7, Beethoven #5 must be next, to be followed by #9 in the number one slot. I'm afraid the list is pretty predictable. I don't remember a year in which the Ninth was not number one.

Just once I'd love to see something like Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms" or Britten's "Hymn to St. Cecelia" beat everyone else, but I'm not holding my breath. And really, it's fine with me just the way it is, with the Ninth Symphony as predictable at midnight as "Auld Lang Syne."

The best and the most. The seven absolute worst. The ten greatest and the twenty most unforgettable. Everything is a list, as we wait for one year to yield to the next we look back at our history, sifting through it in search of meaning. Perhaps if we anchor our years in significant events they won't slip through our fingers like sand, we think. Let us rank what we remember: perhaps the fact of our remembering it all will make us feel more permanent ourselves.

But nothing is permanent, not our events and not us. We're all just passing through. It is almost 10.30 -- as I predicted, Beethoven's Fifth is runner up, and it'll have to hurry up and get out of the way, as his Ninth is a long one and all must be accomplished by the stroke of midnight. A new year will begin then, in the space of a second so like the second that preceded it and the one that will follow them. The seconds and minutes will lengthen into hours and days, as they have in every other year, and in an instant the next year will arrive. We'll all be here again, if fortune is kind. Beethoven and me. Q asleep. Probably no Stravinsky.
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Of course we love Beethoven. But give a listen to these two beauties, just for a change.

Benjamin Britten, "Hymn to St. Cecilia", 1942
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzaIlUds6OQ


Igor Stravinsky, "Symphony of Psalms", 1930
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGTyPJDd2OQ
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