I don’t think anyone would argue with me if I said that Beethoven was one of the greatest music composers of all time.
And it’s fairly well known that Beethoven went deaf over the course of his life.
When I read this about Beethoven’s life, I immediately think, “What a shame! Think of all the music that wasn’t composed because Beethoven couldn’t hear!” The image in my mind is of a frustrated Beethoven trying to eek out some final harmonies before the silence enveloped him. I always assumed he went deaf later in life after he wrote what we consider his best music.
But I was exactly wrong. The exact opposite is true.
Beethoven went deaf in his 20’s and all his best music was written in the last decade of his life. You see, prior to losing his hearing, his music sounded like all of his other contemporaries, especially like that of his teacher, Josef Haydn. He was a genius, but there was no distinction between him and any other young musical prodigy.
But something happened when he tuned out the sound of his day – due to his deafness. He became so original that he was, and is, regarded as the father of music’s romantic period.
Arthur C. Brooks in his Washington Post opinion piece a few years back said, ““It seems a mystery 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. As his hearing deteriorated, he was less influenced by the prevailing compositional fashions, and more by the musical structures forming inside his own head.”
What was considered a hindrance turned out to be his liberation. Deafness freed Beethoven as a composer because he no longer had society’s soundtrack in his ears.
Here’s where it hits home: the more time we spend in noise, in digital distraction, and the social media echo-chamber, or the political war online, and a life of hurry, speed, chronic exhaustion and busyness, the more we live by society’s soundtrack.
And as investors, living by the financial media’s and your brother-in-law’s market commentary makes it even harder to separate the games people are playing around you from your own.
In my favorite book of 2021 (so far), Sherry Turkle shares this in Reclaiming Conversations.
“In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. When we are secure in ourselves we are able to listen to other people and really hear what they have to say. And then in conversation with other people we become better at inner dialogue.”
The more time we spend in quiet and in reflection, the more original we become. The more time we engage critically our investment decisions no matter what is going on around us, the better our outcomes will be.
One thing I’ve learned is that we don’t think about thinking enough.
It’s hard to win with your finances over the course of your life while keeping a level head. Most don’t. The more of Beethoven’s life became of quiet reflection, the more he had something to say to the world.
Here’s a few ideas I’ve been mulling over to create room for this much needed silence:
- Turn off the news in the evenings. If you need the news, go buy a physical paper on a morning coffee run.
- Be bored. Nowadays, at the first hint of boredom we instantly reach for our phones (Hey, we’re being productive!). But a life of constant distraction is shallow. We need silence to answer the Big Questions (What’s my purpose? How can I align my money with it? Am I following through with that?)
- Don’t sleep with your phone in your bedroom
- Remove any stock market notifications on your phone
- Get outside and go for a walk
- Listen to Beethoven’s 9th symphony straight through.