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3 February 2010
I don't remember when I began liking classical music. I grew up in a family that was into "classics," but of the pop variety. For my father it was jazz piano. For my mother it was balladeers like Sinatra, Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, etc., etc. My parents had a very large collection of music.
My maternal grandparents had grown up in the world of vaudeville and so they, too, enjoyed the pop classics.
I must have begun liking classical music somewhere in eary high school. My grandparents lived in a very small apartment that had, in a line, a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen (no bedroom--there were Murphy beds). When adult conversation got boring, I would go into the kitchen, get myself a glass of ice cold water from the bottle she always kept in the ice box (yes, it was an ice box) and huddle next to the radio listening to KKHI, San Francisco's classical music station.
I remember one night when my grandmother came in and found me huddled over the radio and said, in a dismissive tone, "it's nice...but you couldn't listen to it all day, could you?"
Well, yes, I could, though I have to admit that part of it was my form of rebellion. You don't like classical music? Then I must love classical music!
I heard a talk show on the radio this afternoon where the host was asking people to call in and let him know the first classical piece that 'popped' for them, things they would recommend to someone who thought they couldn't understand or appreciate classical music. People who didn't realize that classical music can be fun, not just some big heavy thing.
The very first classical piece that resonated with me was a Bach sonata that I was learning on the piano, during my piano lesson days. Oh this was a baby-fied version, very short, but the tune was there. I had just seen (and been very affected by) the movie, The Seventh Veil, and the Bach sonata reminded me of something played in the movie (it wasn't...I have since gone back to pay attention to the music being played, and it ain't Bach).
But there have been many pieces over the years that have "popped" for me. I remember going to a lecture by Joseph Kripps, the then-conductor of the San Francisco symphony. It was part of a series of 9 Beethoven symphonies which came with lectures. Kripps said that the 8th (not very well known when compared with the 5th, 6th or 9th) was "Beethoven's Joke." It was Beethoven at his most jocular and if you listen to the music with that in mind, you can hear the little jokes he plays on the listener. Ol' Ludwig was not always serious and somber!
KKHI used to use the start of the last movement of Cesar Franck's Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano as its theme music for a nighttime show. I used to try to time my nighttime drives so that I could hear that little excerpt. I just loved it. When I found out what the piece was and bought a recording of it, I loved the whole thing. So lush you could wallow around in it for days. See what you think.
(The first 51 seconds of this video is what was used as the theme song.)
Everybody talks aboaut Ravel's Bolero and I never "got it." It just sounded like the same phrase repeated over and over again. But then I went as a chaparone to the Sacramento Symphony and saw it performed. Oh my word. It was the difference of night and day. If you think you don't like Bolero, find a place where it's being performed and try it again.
There is a piano piece by Louis Moreau Gottschalk that Gilbert played one night when he was hosting a radio program. It became an instant favorite of mine. I can't remember the name of it now, but somewhere I have one of those old "record" type thingies that has it on it. Now if only I had a record player...
I always thought I didn't like opera until a friend had the title role in Tosca and I studied it. I'm still not a huge fan of opera, but Vissi D'arte still gets me every time.
Everybody knows O fortuna from Orff's Carmina Burana even if you think you don't. It's been used for more commercials than you can shake a stick at, but hearing the entire work, and realizing it was written by a bunch of drunken monks and talks a lot about fornicating and stuff like that just makes it all the more fun. It contains 55 songs of morals and mockery, 131 love songs, and 40 drinking and gaming songs.
See? Classical music can be fun!