I have stopped listening to the news in the morning on my way to work. It leaves me frazzled, bitter, and anxious, among other feelings. Not the way to start one’s day. I do wake to the Beatles “Blackbird” instead an alarm and it calms me, but not enough to fall back asleep, gratefully.
I choose now to listen to a classical station that broadcasts from Cape Cod. It soothes my soul and allows me to be reflective and feel content as I approach work. A much better antidote to life’s madness. Music has always been a very important part of my entire life. Both my mother and father were constantly listening to WQXR, the classical station in New York City and it was somehow imbedded in our every day. Their relationship with one another was deepened and entwined by their love of music. My father was a purist and loved the great composers. He developed a skill beyond understanding, and could recognize a piece in a few notes, and often knew the composer, the orchestra and sometimes the conductor. It was often a dialogue and lesson between my parents as my father would question my mother as to whether she recognized the piece and composer. It was something that evolved over the course of their courtship and was evident through their fifty years together. He was the teacher and she was the attentive student. They had a subscription to the New York Philharmonic for years. My mother continued to attend, even after my father’s death. It brought her a bittersweet joy.
My mother’s taste in music was far more eclectic. She loved the music of Broadway, Big Bands, the Beatles, and of course Beethoven. She would take my sister and me to the Broadway shows. We saw “Hello Dolly” with Carol Channing, “Mame” with Angela Lansbury, and “My Fair Lady” among others, too numerous to even remember. Tickets were about $8.00 for the seats in the balcony but the experience was so filled with excitement and magic that it didn’t matter where we sat. We would dress up and it was an event, still unparalleled in many ways. My father was less enchanted by the shows so he would pass and let us go with our mother. He took me to see Gilbert and Sullivan productions at City Center which was a lovely venue. He liked the social commentary of Gilbert and Sullivan and I learned to recognize the values of the shows and the context of history in the productions. Nobody really liked opera and to this day, I don’t appreciate the music as I know others do. My father used to comment that it was a lot of “large women shrieking” and of course, his opinion was planted somewhere in the recesses of my mind.
My mother loved to dance to the music of the 1940s. She would jitterbug in the foyer of our apartment and would catch me and swing me around. She would croon with Frank Sinatra and sing along with Doris Day and Dinah Shore. We learned to love her taste in music and appreciate our father’s lessons on Mozart. We think he liked Mozart the best because they shared a birthday. Of course, my father would wryly state that Mozart was born on his birthday, rather than the other way around. Once in a while my mother would grab my father as he came in from work and insist that they dance for a minute. He would look at her with a weary glance but cooperated for a couple of spins. I think that also influenced my request to my FHB to dance to music in the kitchen, pretty much from the day we met to now.
They both played piano. My mother learned as a child in Germany and my father took lessons when he was in his forties. My mother had the ability to find the notes and play by ear without needing a score in front of her. My father would study the notes and play phrases over and over and over again. When he practiced, my mother took us out shopping to get away from the constant repetition. He was disciplined and she was spontaneous. My sister has the discipline to read music as well as the ability to play by ear. I can read music but choose to pick out tunes and pass a piano and play some notes. We had a large upright in the apartment we grew up in. I think it was tuned twice in my memory and as time went by the 88 working keys became fewer and fewer. We could always find a couple of scales to play Heart and Soul or Chopsticks.
While writing or doing work, I sit in quiet. All other moments, if possible, are filled with music. I can be home in the loft and never turn on the television. I would always rather listen to music. I often hear music in my head beyond the earworms that sometimes take over. Classical music has become a connection with my childhood and parents, that endures. My FHB and I attend many of the local symphony performances and there is always a moment that I yearn to be able to have my parents in the seats next to us in order to talk about the program and learn my father’s thoughts on a piece or performance. I used to see my father tear up as he listened to a particularly moving orchestral piece. I didn’t quite understand the emotional response it evoked. In recent times, I feel it and know it and finally understand how music teaches us to be present. It also links us with our memories of where we heard a piece before or a song that is part of our own history. It is a powerful pull and I like being drawn in.