In another life, I was a singer. I played the piano. Much of my life in my growing up years had to do with music. I sang in school choirs, in church choirs, in special vocal ensembles. My love of music and theater merged in Musical Theater and I sang my heart out onstage over and over. I sang in weddings; more than I can count. I was fortunate enough to go through a public school system that had wonderful music programs (as well as drama.) My parents often had music playing. I grew up listening to Frank Sinatra and The Original Cast of South Pacific and Judy Garland. So I was around music in some way, shape or form all the time, even if it was being made to sit down at the piano and practice.
There is a power in music that can touch my very soul. I distinctly remember a time when I obsessed about a piece of music, absolutely sure I had heard it somewhere. I was only 10. But I’d never heard it at home, in the classroom, on the radio. It was Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor. Mrs. Drake, my piano teacher had assigned it to me. I knew it somehow, recognized it as something already deeply familiar to me. I’ve had that same feeling with Rachmaninoff. As sure as I knew my name, I knew those pieces. Like the time I stood in the bathroom as a little girl and told my mother I knew her before I was born. I knew that to be true, as sure as I was standing there.
My musical tastes are eclectic. Jazz, Big Band, Folk, Motown (my hometown), Rock, Rhythm and Blues, Pop, Broadway Musicals, American Popular Song, Classical….the list goes on. If I hear something new to me that I can’t get out of my mind, I will research it until I find it on CD or some other form. I spent endless hours in my room listening to music as a young adult. Then I would do research. There’s not a lot I don’t know about the history of the Broadway Musical. Or the history of American Popular Song. My favorite thing to do was to go to the record store and buy a new album. I’ve always had a secret desire to have my own radio show where I could play all the many types of music that I love and tell the story behind each piece.
I remember the first time I heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” I was in elementary school and I had never heard anything like it before. That sound. I heard it coming from the radio that sat on our corner table and I was transfixed. Same thing when I heard “If You Could Read My Mind” by Gordon Lightfoot. His sound, those words…they touched me in a profound way. I developed a love for folk music in high school and saw Gordon Lightfoot in concert, as well as Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell. Where was I the night Nixon resigned? At a Joni Mitchell concert. She announced the news from the stage. And in those days when I knew how to get backstage at Masonic Auditorium in Detroit, I was lucky enough to meet Gordon Lightfoot and Judy Collins. Now I’d be taken for a stalker.
During my last year in college I always had rehearsals late into the night so I would take an afternoon nap. I’d shut the blinds, put on Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and off to dreamland I would go. To this day when I hear that beautiful music, I think of those long-ago afternoons. A simpler time.
Rhapsody in Blue, any Gershwin song, Bernstein, Sondheim (I could write a book on my love for Sondheim), Frank Sinatra singing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” – I can’t get enough of that music. Barbara Cook singing anything. She brings me to tears. Earth, Wind and Fire – they fill me with joy. The end of Stravinsky’s Firebird. I don’t think I’ve heard anything more powerful and resplendent.
I’ve always had such an emotional response to music. Don and I went to Tanglewood one summer. It’s such a beautiful outdoor setting in which to hear music. I sat there listening to the Boston Symphony in that gorgeous setting and cried. The experience was transcendent. I’ve had many such experiences, have you? I think music can touch a place deep within – it can unlock all those emotions we keep a lid on, the feelings we have denied because we have to in order to get through daily life. Music can sneak its way in to that hidden place and free us.
Years ago, a few months after my brother’s untimely death, I traveled from Boston to Philadelphia to visit my close friend Joe. Joe is a very talented organist. As I sat in his church and heard the opening notes come out of that gorgeous instrument, I started to cry. And I couldn’t stop. I cried, quietly, through the whole service. Healing had begun.
Joni Mitchell recently recorded a new version of “Both Sides Now.” Now her voice is deeper, more smoky, more knowing. The arrangement is haunting. When I heard it for the first time, I was profoundly moved. There is a lifetime of living between that first version recorded as a young adult and this new one. A lifetime of happiness, pain and sorrow. And it all comes out in her voice, her lyrics, sung at this time in her life. Music performed from the heart at a specific moment in time can do that.
Lately, I’ve been playing Pat Metheny over and over: his piece “Last Train Home.” It is so hauntingly beautiful that I cannot stop listening to it. Yes, I get obsessive. But when a piece of music effects me so deeply – whether it makes me want to dance, or sing along, or just immerse myself in its beauty – I have no choice.
I don’t sing publicly anymore, just around the house. The last time I sang in public was at my niece’s wedding. I wanted to turn down her request because I was rusty, but all I could hear was my late brother’s voice in my head saying “What the…? What do you mean, you’re not going to sing?” So I did.
I don’t know of anything else that can move me so profoundly as music. Interestingly, as I get older, I also like silence. And I think that is why music seems to be even more powerful lately. If music is on all the time, it loses its power. When it comes out of silence…then it resonates.
So I’ve been thinking about music a lot lately. And I find that when I can’t get an idea out of my mind, I need to write about it. I’d love to hear about what moves you. Has a piece of music changed your life? What are your favorites? Please share – I’d love to read about your experiences.