My life with music
I cannot play a musical instrument, and I have never taken music lessons. I cannot read music. And I can barely distinguish the playing quality between a Yitzhak Perlman and a journeyman violinist in the back row of a major symphony orchestra.
Yet I am an avid lover of classical music and a frequent concert-goer. All day at home, I have a good-music radio station or a selection from my vast CD collection playing in the background. My tastes range from the old war-horses, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, to more modern composers such as Mahler, Shostakovich and Prokofiev.
I believe that my love of classical music was stimulated by my 8th grade teacher, Mrs. O'Mara. She conducted a class called "Music Appreciation" and required her students to maintain scrap books with pictures of prominent musical concert performers. The project competed with my scrap book of major-league baseball players, but my collection seemed to meet Mrs. O'Mara's standards.
I still remember some of the techniques she used to introduce us to the major classical composers. When she came to Schubert, for example, she taught us to sing: "This is the symphony that Schubert wrote and never finished," using the basic melody that flowed through his never-finished final symphony.
The musical influences at home were minimal. We had an old piano in our apartment on which my mother had taken lessons when she was a child. But I don't recall ever hearing her play.
She encouraged me to take lessons. She had a distant cousin, Sidney Sukoenig, who was a prominent concert performer and a conservatory teacher during the 1920s and 1930s, who was willing to teach me. I turned down that opportunity because it interfered with stick ball and touch footfall.
I must have had some inherent musical talent, however, because with one finger, I was able to pick out virtually any melody on my mother's old piano, without knowing exactly what I was doing.
My father used to play operatic and Jewish cantorial records on our old Victrola, but I don't think his attraction to vocal music influenced my love of symphonic music.
I try to educate myself about good music by reading the music critics in the general newspapers and magazines that cover the music scene. But it is not very helpful when I encounter something like the following recent review in the New York Times of a local performance by a Russian pianist, Alexei Volodin, playing a Bach Partita with the London Symphony Orchestra:
"He played the Corrente with sparkling energy and brought a wistful nostalgia to the Sarabande," the critic wrote. "Mr. Volodin clearly articulated the multiple voices hidden in the thicket of counterpointe in the concluding Gigue, whose grandeur he aptly conveyed."
What is an untutored music lover like me, who can't tell a sharp from a flat, to make of that?