In my conversations with Von, and as recounted by community members in research interviews, Von often spoke about musical processes and his relations with people in allegorical language. I have found that numerous musicians of Von’s generation, including Von and his brother George, interpret the world to some degree utilizing an astrological lens. Because Von often showed interest in astrology, I decided to investigate Von’s natal horoscope to compare readings of his chart to what people have said about Von and his music and to my personal experiences performing with him. The idea first came to me when Chicago Tribune columnist Howard Reich in 2011 wrote an article about how he had located Von’s birth certificate which said he was born in 1923. (Up to that point, most people thought that Von was born in 1922 because Von told people so). I asked astrologer Brian Allemana, my brother, to create and read Von’s natal horoscope for both 1922 and 1923 to compare the two years. What he found was that the 1922 had nothing to do with Von as we and others knew him, and 1923 clearly read more like Von. I decided with the help of my brother to dig deeper into the meanings evoked in the chart and to create a musical structure based on what Brian read from Von’s horoscope. (The following readings were developed in close consultation with Brian).
Von was born on October 3rd, making him a Libra, the sign of the individual who desires and understands how to connect deeply and dialogue with other individuals, frequently taking the initiative in order to forge close relationships. This desire to connect is produced through love of beauty and harmony. Further, Libra is associated with the element of air which adds a strong social quality to Libra. Air represents transport and movement, particularly of ideas and abstractions, thus Libra engenders fellowship through the transfer of knowledge and ideas, particularly through aesthetic means and abstract modes of communication. The angles prevalent in his chart provide clues of the degree of Von’s Libra-ness and offer an astrological means to interpret Von’s actions, music, and impact in the world.
The angles in any natal horoscope consist of blue (soft) aspects which represent harmonious relationships and red (stressful) aspects which produce tension that requires release. Tension and release are constitutive elements of human existence and vital to musical expression, thus every element serves all other elements—tensions serve release and release serves tension, which produces harmonious flow which is never-ending. The tension and release represented in red angles are very strong in Von’s chart which show that emotions are a strong mode of release for him.
One important connection flows from Chiron to Neptune, which exemplifies a being that carries wounds from life experience. The standpoint of Neptune toward Chiron evokes a higher force to which one asks for help and higher meaning to understand those wounds, that is, looking to a higher force for help with suffering. Once the being’s energy reaches Neptune, which is a path of suffering, and then looks toward Chiron, one is healed and can now help others. With the infinite flow of tension and release, however, Neptune’s force can change and bring one to a lower place, and then the being goes back toward Chiron for healing, an eternal cycle. Von often looked toward a larger force (generated by nature, the universe, God) to heal through improvisation, which resembles movement toward Chiron. Here he would also reach a state of being able to help others through mentorship, but that state would flow back toward Neptune, then whatever wounds he carried manifested again, and then musical searching would bring him back toward Chiron, a repeating cycle.
Saturn, Venus, and the Sun are also in opposition to Chiron in Von’s chart, which depicts wounds inflicted by authority and through personal relationships, disrupting senses of self-value and belonging. The pain from these wounds would be deeply internalized. Transcendence from these wounds would have come from the types of self-work which would lead to spiritual connections with others, such as through musical expression. Accompanying this transcendence is the understanding that everyone is wounded to some degree, that all deal with some form of insecurity, and that everyone conducts some degree of self-evaluation. Examples of real-world sources of wounds from authority could come from, for example, racism endured under segregation or messages inherent in different public media of Black inferiority. With age, the anguish which manifests from these wounds over time would have the potential to be the source artistic expressions of beauty.
The grand water trine, a triangular connection of planetary aspects, represents the deeper imagination, its course, and its materialization. The imagination travels between the underworld (plane of lower forces, the cruder aspects of self and experience) and overworld (plane of higher forces which unify and drive individuals to live by moral principles). Represented in the natal horoscope by Pluto and the Moon together, its underworld aspects are elements of deep consciousness, which include desires, the depths of human emotion, the experiences of loss, and profound emotions, the experiences of being deep in the trenches (which Von always maintained would make you a strong musician and human). The connection of Neptune to Jupiter, the overworld, is high consciousness which produces the creative and divine forces that Von channels to reach transcendence. Its elements include beauty, flow, and the feeling of soul cleansing. This planetary link offers an interpretation that Von connected with higher meaning and higher consciousness, making him a channeler of higher forces, which would manifest when he became lost in creative expression.
Finally, The T-square in Von’s natal horoscope represents how he flows between the lower and higher aspects of being, which symbolizes a tension of yearning for beauty, trying to reach a perfect expression, but never achieving full realization. This tension could be interpreted as driving his improvisations. With the strong connection of Jupiter to the Sun and Moon, Von could channel this flow from his musical and life experiences and share through teaching. Von felt compassion for his horses—he would pass knowledge to them so that they have an easier time when passing through difficult musical and life challenges. This passion to share knowledge could link to the Libra’s need to connect emotionally with others, represented by the Moon in the seventh house. Since Libras long for human relationships, Von may have connected to audiences, made music with his musicians, and guided his horses as means to fulfill the desire to connect with others.