Symphony In The Key Of B

The classical symphonic form is comprised of three movements, sometimes four. In most 3-movement symphonies, the first movement is fairly fast, with at least a primary and secondary theme, both memorable and complex.

The 2nd movement is slow and solemn by comparison.
The 3rd movement is a fast-moving (and occasionally humorous) piece, sometimes recapping the primary themes of the previous two movements.

So, in essence, first movement, fast, complex.
2nd movement, slow, thoughtful.
3rd movement, fast again with occasional elements of the first two.

IMG_0064 copy                            Calvin, Steven, B, Will & me at the castle on the Rhine

Why am I telling you this, and why does it matter?? Because it’s a good way to describe the trip that B “composed” for us in August, and how it “played” out. You see, Betty Ann Shaffer Johnson is an amazing woman who, nearly every day, shows me yet another dimension of her talents and strengths. This past spring she sat in her big chair at the cabin every morning with her laptop and composed for her son Steven, his two sons Calvin and Will, and her and me, a most wonderful trip, complete with schedule, hotel bookings and side trips with fun things to see and do.

DCIM100GOPRO                                               B & me, dinner at the castle

I watched her over there, sipping her coffee, cruising the net, looking for deals, carefully planning out the best places and timing for the 5 of us. In those several months before our journey, she plotted the best places to stay for the best price, how long to be there, when we’d be tired and needed rest, and how far to go… to the point of starting the trip fast with a lot of things to do, and winding it down at the end, with some r & r and time to process it all in the middle. Beginning to see it?
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I didn’t, until we were in the middle of the second movement. She had used Munich as a home base for the first two weeks, (which is the 1st movement) traveling from there to a castle on the Rhine, then to Chamonix and Mont Blanc, back to Munich, then a day trip to Salzburg. We had said goodbye to Steven and the boys, who left us at Chamonix and had flown to Barcelona, then to Paris and on up to London before returning home. B and I had returned to Munich from Chamonix by way of an overnight stay at Lake Lucerne. A day of rest, then a train ride to Salzburg for one of the better days of my life. Back in Munich, we packed up, finishing the end of our first two weeks and took the train to Venice.
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Two wonderful, easy days in Venice, then B rented a car and drove us down to Greve, in the Tuscany Region south of Florence. She had booked us into a villa with a vineyard in the hills outside Greve, for five days to rest, regroup and reflect.

<<< B in Venice

Steve enjoying Venice >>>

It was on the afternoon of the 3rd day there, sitting under a shade tree, sipping the fine Chianti they made there, when it finally occurred to me what B had done. I had been quietly marveling at the amount of planning and countless details it took to have an experience such as we were having, when it suddenly came to me the comparison of composing a trip of this kind to composing a symphony.

Steve at Buonasera copyWell, the more I thought about it, the more it worked, the stronger the comparisons became until i was sure, and am still sure, that what B really did was compose a symphony for us, a symphony of travel through the time and space of 5 countries of Europe in 30 days… and what a symphony it was becoming!

I have to mention here that I was also listening to Mozart’s Symphony #32 at the time. You see, we hadn’t really heard much music in those first two weeks, and after the Salzburg trip… well, I needed a little Mozart. So I had downloaded his symphonies #32 & 41 (The Jupiter) to listen to from the laptop when things got a little too quiet. Probably that music, floating across to my perch, and perhaps Mozart himself, helped me grasp the comparison of B’s fabulous trip to a beautiful symphony.

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I decided to keep an eye on the last week of the trip, to see if the correlation continued to make some sense. Problem was, so much happened in that last week that I didn’t think about it again until the middle of the flight home. Only then did I realize that the trip was, indeed, a symphony, that it followed all the forms of the classical 3-movement structure. The last week (the 3rd movement) was an up-tempo blast with a few slower, easier days, reminding us of the busy, non-stop complexity of the first two weeks, then the relaxed fluidity of the 3rd week. The busy, beautiful Amalfi Coast was tempered with a pleasant two-day stay in Sorrento, then four days down in Praiano, which turned out to be pure heaven… a most fitting final theme to a most memorable work.


You do see it, don’t you? The busyness and excitement of the first two weeks, which set up the quiet peacefulness of Venice and Tuscany in the 3rd week, which in turn set us up for the beauty and occasional excitement of Sorrento and Praiano.


If there would have been a coda, (a short passage that brings a piece to an end) it would have been our last afternoon in Naples, before we caught our flights home. But this piece didn’t need a coda. It ended in a most magical way, the last night and the last meal together at our hotel, the Pensione Pellegrino. Beautiful background music, a fabulous meal, fine wine and B sitting across from me, smiling with satisfaction that the trip had gone so well. And, bless her heart, at that moment she could have done another month. I think. For my part, I was fried, but happy.

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I told B about my comparison concept, and she said, “Oh, no dear, that’s just the things you have to do to have a safe, enjoyable and successful trip.” But that’s my B, always pooh-poohing any attempt at throwing a compliment her way. Whatever. For my part I consider this trip as a fine symphony of excitement, discovery and beauty. Complex, deep and most memorable in experience and emotion, this Symphony In B I will treasure always.

Steve Hulse

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