(Note: So, my life has been suddenly consumed by another project. The aforementioned project shall remain mysterious. Yes, I hope to keep blogging throughout it, so don’t worry. That is, if you were worried at all.)
When I was growing up, my brothers and I would spend a fair amount of time at the Tippecanoe Mall in Lafayette, Indiana. It is important to remember that when I write “we”, I actually mean that they did and I would tag along as the youngest. Like normal, we’d go to all the same stores: the movie one (I think it was called “Suncoast” then), the Kaybee Toys, Waldenbooks and the CD/Tape store, whose name escapes me now. Yes, CD’s and yes, cassette tapes. It was the nineties, don’t you know?
I don’t remember how I ended up in the classical section, but I always did. I do have vague memories of being told in first or second grade that listening to classical music made you smarter. I don’t know if that’s why I kept ending up there, because even though my mother is a fine singer in her own right, no one in my family ever listened to classical music. My dad mainly listened to classic rock and my mother would listen to and sing southern gospel. My oldest brother listened to ska and grunge.
I also have vague memories of my brothers taking forever, or what seemed so to my seven-year-old mind. So I would walk around the shelves and try to find something interesting. Luckily, there were always interesting names in the classical section like Mussorgsky, Shostakovich and Saint-Saëns. In fact, until I started taking bassoon lessons around fifteen, I had always pronounced Saint-Saëns as, “Saint SAY-ens” — not the correct, “Sa-SAAHns”, where the vowel is placed deep within the sinus cavity, a place completely unknown to Hoosiers. I didn’t know any better because Al Gore really hadn’t invented the internet by then.
One of the really fun names was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. I only recognized his name, because the store several different recordings of “The Nutcracker”. I mean, come on, doesn’t everybody know it? Well, when I must have been eight or nine, I convinced my mother to let me buy an Excelsior recording of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies for really cheap. I’m pretty sure that they were boxed together. Rather pathetically innocent, I pronounced the Sixth’s title as, “pathetic” not the proper, “Pat-ta-tique.” I must confess I did it also for Beethoven’s Piano Sonata of the same name, until I was corrected a few years later.
(Here is an unabridged video of Bernstein conducting the NYP.)
I remember taking it home and listening to it on my oldest brother’s CD player. I can still remember listening to it to this day. It was like a lightening bolt and all the other well-worn cliches we use whenever we come across a true piece of art. I remember that I immediately loved the first and last movement, quickly recognizing that both are based on the same tune. In the first movement uses it in a minor key (at 0:28) and the finale changes it to a major key (37:06).
It took me some time to fall in love with the second and third movements, but I eventually did. To my adult ears, the theme from the second movement (17:25) sounds obnoxiously close to Bob Denver’s “Annie’s Song”. As if the horn soloist was singing, “You fill up my senses . . .” The third movement was an odd little waltz (30:53) full of an excitement all its own, but mostly a tiny bit of a breather.
But, it was the drama of the fourth movement that I loved the most (37:06). It grabbed you by the shoulders, thrusting you into despair one minute and exalting you to the heights of glory the next. It grew and grew to that final stately affirmation of that original sad tune. The strings were going all over the place while brass marched victoriously until their hearts were exhausted with joy. It was exhilarating! It was bombastically majestic and I loved every second of it as an eight or nine year old.
And I still do at twenty-five. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this early exposure has formed me into who I am today. Also, I should tell you about how I expressed all my teenage angst through the music of Gustav Mahler. And how my two favorite movies were “Amadeus” and “Immortal Beloved”.
Good Lord, I was a weird little child, wasn’t I?
Anyway, this leads me to ask you, what was the first major piece of art that you remember being struck by?
How old were you when you heard or saw it?
How did it change you? What has resonated with you for most of your life?