Thursday, February 21, 2008

Beautiful Music

And when I heard all the words about passion
Singing to me about love of a fashion that I never heard anywhere else
That's when I said - gotta get some of that for myself....

When I thought about putting this story together I started to think about where my love of music in general came from. EVERYWHERE! From day one, almost literally and it amazed me at how much of it was there!

My parents tell me that as an infant my dad would hold me while listening to classical music on the radio - usually the old "An Afternoon at the Met" on WQXR. I remember one of the main classical stations out of NYC once changed formats from classical to oldies rock in the early 70s - the kickoff song at the time was "Roll Over Beethoven" by Chuck Berry. When the classical format was reinstated, the opening piece was Et resurrexit from Bach's "Mass in B Minor". Back in the day when DJs of all types had some power over their playlists and a sense of humor besides. Talk about early impressions of using pieces of music to tell a story or even a joke.

My next-door neighbor had one of those '70s organs that tried to imitate a church organ at home and had several rhythms and sound effects. Looking back it looked like an early attempt at today's synthesizers. With a little guidance I learned to plink out a tune from whatever sheet music was available. I had a thing for "Over the Rainbow" for some reason. A lot of after-school sessions spent in that house, but why on earth didn't I learn to play with my left hand? There were violin lessons too - to appease Mom and Dad. I dropped it like a bad habit ASAP. I hated the violin. The one instrument I wanted to play - the drums - were verbotten.

Church choir was also a staple. My dear ole dad, bless his heart, can't carry a note in a bucket but we went to a small enough church that it didn't matter - they just needed men in the back row. So naturally I was enrolled in the childrens' choir. The very youngest of the group by several years. The director was an elderly, grandmotherly lady who took me under her wing as her favorite. Since I never knew my grandparents it was like having a grandmother on Saturdays who played the piano and taught us songs.

More than playing or singing, what really stirred me was dance. Mom enrolled me in the standard dance class series at age 5: ballet, tap, jazz. It's like a rule that every little girl has to go through this and it took hold of me but fast! My rebellious streak was shedding the classical music influence Dad tried to get into me, but ballet exercises at the barre reinforced it, if marginally. I moved into pointe as I got older and really aspired to polish up my technique in romantic-era ballet work. Tap got left behind relatively soon. You can't really move. So it was jazz that did the most to reinforce my growing popular music love. The instructor was obsessed with pop music that was outside the mainstream for my age group. Favorites for floor exercises were lots of Peter Allen (I can't hear "Bi-Coastal" or "I Go to Rio" without repeating the little practice drill.....), Stevie Wonder, a little Melissa Manchester, and any stage musical that Bob Fosse choreographed something for.

Aside: for our recital one year, I was cast as Velma Kelly in a group dance routine to "All That Jazz". I was FOURTEEN!! I look back on that, especially now that I know the entire Chicago story line and wonder, what in the world were they thinking putting a kid in that role?? But on stage I could make that song come alive, let me tell you...... ;-)

Afternoons after school when I didn't have an activity or club or lesson, I was a latchkey kid. I didn't care about TV or video games - I would dig out both my folks' showtune records and the pop/rock music I was listening to, and choreograph a routine to it. Just make something up, like that sequence in Flashdance.

This is a lot longer than I thought it would be! This is the backdrop of music that I started making my own choices against. I thought I was rejecting all of the classical influence but most of what I chose to listen to had complex melodic arrangements with more than three chords and lyrics that took brains to write. Time for Part 2.....

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