Timpani in the Time of Coronavirus by Jean L. Kreiling

Timpani in the Time of Coronavirus

They always bellow, they’re always commanding,
their voices drawn out by the mallets landing
precisely on the drum heads, tuned and taut
above the wells of air. But in these fraught,
infected days, the timpani’s dark boom
sounds darker, bigger. Does it signal doom,
or lead the battle? Does it frighten you,
or brace you for the fight? How you construe
its hefty, hollow rumble may depend
on which thunder you hear. I recommend
the second movement of Beethoven’s last
and bravest symphony, the ninth. It’s fast,
and full of stirring noise. The strings begin,
but timpani aggressively leap in,
and their insistent octave sets the tone;
its power vibrates in the blood and bone.
A vigorous orchestral conversation
ensues, the timpani’s determination
its measured, mighty pulse. Each copper bowl
holds only air, and for all his control,
the timpanist extracts only a sound,
no cure—but his touch lets the drum expound
on how to lead, how to be resolute.
Sometimes that means the timpani is mute:
it waits for word from one who knows the score,
patient until the time is right for more
well-crafted clamor. Though the timpani
could lead you elsewhere—gloom, anxiety,
or anger might live in its resonance—
I hear both discipline and confidence,
judicious vigor we might emulate,
undaunted mettle that might animate
our own. Beethoven often seems to know
what we require; his will from long ago
still sings to us. And in this movement’s grit
and grace lives triumph; at the heart of it—
the beating heart—the timpani exude
a strength that feeds my hope and fortitude.

by Jean L. Kreiling

Editor’s Note: The alliteration and rhyme in this poem beautifully mirror the sonics of a symphony while the words bring a glimmer of hope to the reader during these trying times.

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