At the insistence of my mother, I took piano lessons for years.
I came out of the process as innocent of any musical ability as when I started. This should not have come as a shock to me. Raised in the Pentecostal Church, I realized at an early age that I could not clap to the beat of the music without watching someone else clap and time my movements with theirs. The understanding of my musical shortcomings was further reinforced at our church “Youth Camp”, when the choir director took me aside and told me discreetly that while he appreciated my enthusiasm, it would be better if I just lip-synced through the choir songs. In the history of church youth choirs I believe this to be a singular distinction bestowed only on me.
I love music but have accepted that I can only be an observer and never a participant.
Accepted, yes, but maybe still a little bitter. During my high school years I believe I projected a sort of magnetic musical force field, whereby positives are attracted to negatives. All of my friends were blessed with musical abilities beyond my imagining. Don B, one of my close friends could pick up any musical instrument and play it. We would get together and jam for hours. Okay, to be exact my friends jammed and I listened and sang (they were really good friends if they let me sing)! As children of the 60’s we covered Dave Mason, Crosby-Stills-and Nash, the Guess Who, all sorts protest music including Country Joe & the Fish which gave us the opportunity to do the “Fish Chant”, give me a F, give me a U, etc. We felt terribly rebellious from the safety of our suburban garages.
Certain songs have placed a marker in my mind. Hearing them will take me back to a particular time and location. I remember as if it were yesterday, sitting in the backseat of a Chevy Corvair that belonged to my friend and next door neighbor (that car was great exercise, we pushed it almost as much as we rode in it). We were sitting in the left hand lane of MacKenzie waiting to turn onto Weber Road. The windows down, as it was summer in Affton, Missouri and the car was not air-conditioned. Blood, Sweat & Tears was playing on the 8-track player. There were four of us in the car and all of us had our hands outside the car, pounding on the roof and door panels to the beat of Spinning Wheel.
As I grew older, I sampled and discovered other types of music. The modality of Miles Davis’ landmark album, “Kind of Blue”, introduced me to the universe of jazz.
I began to appreciate music genres that I would have ridiculed as a teenager. Hank Williams and Patsy Cline opened up the world of traditional American country music to me.
My piano lessons eventually bore fruit, at least in the form of appreciation. Listening to piano works such as Chopin’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21 or Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor never fails to give me hope for humanity, no matter who becomes the next President of the United States.
My favorite line from the entire Harry Potter series is when Albus Dumbledore announces after a song rendered by the student body of Hogwarts, “Ah Music, a Magic Beyond All We Do Here!”
I believe God has hard-wired we terribly flawed humans with an angelic love of music. My beautiful little granddaughter from the time she could stand and take a few waddling steps, would freeze in her tracks and start to dance anytime she heard music. Nobody taught her that. Like the rest of humanity she was born with a love and need for music. There are cultures who have never developed a written language or moved beyond primitive tools, but I know of no human cultures, who have not embraced music into their lives.
We live in a time when there is a richness and abundance of musical options. It was not that long ago in human history, that if you wanted to hear music, you had to create it yourself or go somewhere where live music was being performed. Today we have music in our homes, in our cars, in the grocery store, from our phones and yes, even in the elevators!
Plato said it better than I can, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and charm and gaiety to life.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to make a run to the hardware store. As soon as the door to the SUV shuts, I’m going to crank up the sound system, tap my fingers to the music … a little off-beat … sing a little off-key and enjoy every minute of it.
While I was writing this blog post, I came across this YouTube recording of Arthur Rubinstein’s 1978 performance of Chopin’s 2nd Piano Concerto. Born in 1887, Mr. Rubinstein, in his 90’s, hands gnarled with age, interprets Chopin as no one else can. Take 33 minutes out of your day and watch this incredible performance, it is time well spent.