Special friendships

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Tonight as I reached out for a Prokofiev recording, my arm felt as though it wasn't going to reach the shelf. As though my ''friend'' Sergei's finger tips and mine weren't going to touch over the decades anymore. I knew that wasn't so. This was simply another illustration of the peculiar rhythm my friendships have always had. I was reminded of this rhythm a few weeks ago when I got a letter from a college friend I hadn't seen since the '60s. Suddenly she'd wanted to find me and to know what I was doing. I know this is not a coincidence. Something is bringing us together again. Perhaps it will only be a tangential touching of hearts. Perhaps there's a facet of me that has now developed that will mean something to her. Or maybe it's the other way around.

That's the way my relationships have always composed themselves. Individuals appearing, disappearing, and reappearing, like certain colors, lines, and forms in a painting that only meet on the canvas when they are essential to the unity of the work of art as a whole. I always have a distinct feeling of purpose whenever I meet someone. It's not that I think there's always a deep, far-reaching reason for the meeting (although there sometimes is). It's just that when a contact is made I feel as though it must be the next right note in the ongoing symphony of life, as I relate to it.

I love the friendships I have with certain individuals of other centuries - who exist and speak to humanity in ways that transcend time and personal presence. I've always loved music, although I've never played an instrument and don't even read notes. But in the past ten years I've found myself with recordings of more and more favorite composers whose music I love, and who are all ''friends.'' There seem to be certain composers who reach deep within me and speak to me - not with messages that have words but as a friend with whom you're at once totally compatible, linked heart to heart.

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For several years I felt an indescribable bond with Prokofiev. I tried to understand why this was. I thought I needed to understand it. I didn't stop loving other music. It was simply that Prokofiev, in every sense, was a special friend. Each time I heard the first few notes of one of his compositions, it was as though the face of a loved friend was suddenly coming toward me on the street. I suppose, in a sense, there isn't much difference between recognizing the face of a friend and recognizing a composer in his music or a painter in his paintings. It's the primary nature of composition to identify individuality. We'd all have the same face if our features weren't composed differently. Snowflakes would all be the same except for their composition, the way the parts relate to one another. Hearing a few notes of music, knowing the composer by the way even a few notes are related to one another, is really recognizing the ''face'' of the artist. And here, from that point of recognition, the communication always begins for me.

Except that the communication seems one-sided. Or is it? Is it perhaps enough for an artist to have known, or hoped, that someone would treasure what he'd done, be grateful for and share in what he'd given to the world? Is it enough to have deeply experienced Prokofiev in the way he was best able to express himself?

There are friendships on two levels: friends near and friends far, friends in particular and friends in general. Friendships in particular are works of art in themselves, requiring special love, practical care, and hard work. And to a friend in particular you can even lend a cup of sugar. To be a friend in general means to me that you belong, in a sense, to the whole world. You so totally develop yourself as an individual, so fully achieve your potential, that you have an endless capacity to give - you are a light that can't be hidden - and then you can no longer be alone or selfish. You even transcend time and your own generation and you are a friend to generations yet unborn. You have imparted yourself to the world in the form of your works.

In the end, I wonder if there really needs to be much difference between friends in particular and friends in general. So many millions of words have passed between me and my friends over the years, words that at the time I thought very important. Ultimately, it isn't what we say, but what we are. With friends no longer present, it's the deep impression of a unique individual that stays with me, the love that wells up inside me when I think of him. And so it is with artists. Listening to a piece of music (or looking at a great painting) leaves one with the distinct impression of a totally unique individual whose original way of reflecting and declaring the time-transcending harmony of being often results in comfort, inspiration, satisfaction, strength, healing.

Surely the purest element of friendship must be beyond time, space and words.

I'll always love Prokofiev. But as I listened tonight to the second movement of his Fourth Symphony (my favorite), I felt distant from it. And while I'm always having lively ''conversations'' with Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Vaughan Williams, Bartok, for some reason Maurice Ravel has become, in the past year, another special friend, speaking to my heart. His manner of communicating is enriching my life in that inexplicable way. All I can do is accept from him, and from other unselfed givers, what seems to be a legacy of friendship. ''We all,'' they seem to say, ''being of sound mind, do leave to the world the unlimited treasure of our souls, a light of friendship that never can be spent. . . .''

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