This past week I saw a pair of trumpeter swans a’swimming on Swan Lake in Wyoming.
Since identifying the lake as a destination on our hike, Tchaikovsky’s Swan’s Theme has been firmly lodged in my brain. When we reached Swan Lake itself I dramatically sang what I knew of it from the shore, one of my companions helpfully picking up the tune, my arms spread wide, for once not really caring whether I disturbed the people or creatures around me. (And hey, it’s important to scare off the bears!) I even made a fair attempt at a lesser-known section that leads up to the repetition of the leitmotif.
A few moments later an older white couple walked over to us, one of them smiling and then enthusiastically thanking us for our performance and appreciating that we managed to stay on tune. She laughingly claimed that the pair of swans across the lake, which I actually hadn’t seen before I began singing, beat their wings against the water to applaud us as we sang. (I later joked that they were probably beating their wings in frustration, thinking “goddamn it can people stop singing that fucking song at us already?!?”)
I’m fairly certain that out of our group of four in which I was the only non-white person, this woman did not expect me to be the one who’d first encountered Swan Lake when learning an adaptation of the theme during piano lessons at age 6 or so; the one who is probably most personally sad about Tchaikovsky’s life trajectory and deeply moved by his music in that light; or the one who would, upon returning to reliable and secure wifi, download a good recording of “Swan Lake,” listen to it incessantly, marvel at the Swan dancing en pointe in YouTube videos, and tell their partner happily of their newfound appreciation of ballet after having stuck primarily to non-ballet classical music and opera for the past three decades and that they’ll go to the ballet with her more enthusiastically than expected after all.