Saturday, April 04, 2009

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?

5 Comments:

Blogger Kay Dennison said...

I'm like you, Mort! I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket if my life depended on it but, like you I love classical music and I am a season ticket holder to our local symphony. I wish I knew what we should call ourselves.

How is your lovely wife doing?

Sunday, April 05, 2009 1:00:00 AM  
Blogger Darlene said...

I am sure your love of classical music is due to your innate taste, Mort. I doubt that many of the children in the music appreciation class learned to like classical music.

I can tell a sharp from a flat, but would be hard pressed to understand the NYT's music reviewer's description of the Volodin performance. I think he was just trying to show off for the elite. ;-).

Sunday, April 05, 2009 5:56:00 PM  
Blogger Sylvia K said...

I have to agree with Bobbie -- I'm sure your love of classical is due to your innate taste. I fell in love with classical music one summer when I was ten years old while visiting a cousin who played the piano beautifully. She had lots of classical records and we listented to them every day. I started saving my allowance so I could buy records of my own. My parents thought I had lost my mind, but that wasn't unusal. It is so much a part of my life now that I can't imagine a day without it.
I couldn't access your blog for a couple of days -- have no idea why, but I'm happy I can now. Thanks for your post, they're always enjoyed!

Monday, April 06, 2009 9:18:00 AM  
Blogger Chancy said...

Our 12 year old grandson plays the piano beautifully. He played by ear when he was about 6 years old and then started taking lessons. He plays mostly classical music now and my daughter and her husband bought a baby grand for him and his sister.
I am so proud when I hear him play so beautifully. From the time they were small their parents have played classical music CD's for him and his younger sister in the car and at home to instill a love of music in them early on.

Monday, April 06, 2009 9:50:00 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

I found your blog while searching out mnemonics to recall concert music themes -- I also learned the Schubert #8 example. I'm realizing this is a dying body of knowledge. Do you have any others you remember?

Saturday, November 07, 2009 12:06:00 AM  

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