I recently carried on about my love for Latin and Greek music, but that was in connection with dancing. In connection with life, I love classical music. However, as a teenager I was hooked on the early 45 rpm rock and roll—because I didn’t know any better. Indeed, my aunt had sent me a big 78 rpm classical record with pretty music called Anitra’s Dance by a Grieg and some Hungarian dances by a Brahms, but for my taste in dancing, they weren’t quite Elvis.
When I got to Tulane in 1960, I totally lucked out to get a roommate named Roger, who was in the band and thus knew a lot about music. From Roger I first heard about someone named Bach, and the record he played blew my mind. Then he introduced me to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, and the sound of my world was never the same again. I immediately branched out on my own and discovered Vivaldi, Mozart, Saint Saens and a dozen other spectacular composers.
Many of the pieces I discovered way back then are still my favorites. For example, Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, the Emperor —I still prefer the performance I first heard over fifty years ago by Robert Casadesus. Both that and the Saint Saens Symphony No. 3, the Organ have enormous emotional significance for me in connection with my first ever love.
All these many years I’ve kept on exploring classical music and composers and discovered so many treasures I couldn’t begin to list them in any priority order. In general, if you name a composer I’ll have a favorite piece of his or her composition. Or more than one. My latest discovery several years ago was Luigi Boccherini. His guitar quintets and cello concerti are sublime, for instance Quintet no. 9 in C Nightwatch in Madrid, or Quintet no. 1 in D minor , or hold on to your hats for no. 4 in D major Fandango.
I’ve always lamented not playing an instrument. There was a false start in the fifth grade when I’d just been introduced to the piano keyboard and then we moved to the woods of Arkansas. Ever since, I’ve had to make do with records, tapes, or cds and classical radio stations. At home I live to classical music, and hundreds of compositions have become so familiar that often I can identify the piece from the first or second note.
Apropos radio stations, recently I’ve been so disgusted with the local classical station’s offensive commercials that I now listen online to all-music stations elsewhere—and to Pandora. I enjoy it a lot because I’ve added stations for merengue and cumbia and can dance whenever I want to.
Speaking of familiarity with compositions, while driving, I’m known to sing along to favorites on the radio with la-la-la, dum-dum-de-doo, and such vocal antics (often with directorial gestures which may confuse or offend other drivers). One evening last year I caught the tail end of the third Brandenburg Concerto and spontaneously whistled the last snatch of it right on key, like another instrument in the ensemble. In my several earlier decades, whenever I’d tried to whistle, all I’d ever managed were vaguely obstreperous windy noises. Imagine my surprise that I’d just made music with my mouth!
The next day on the same stretch of road, listening to a favorite Telemann trumpet voluntary, the Prince of Denmark’s March, the clarion notes of the trumpet made me give a little whistle. The music grabbed something inside me, and I climbed right on that horn, the notes streaming from my lips without thought. Part of me marveled at what my tongue was independently doing to change the notes. The melody itself seemed to come without thought from somewhere in the back of my head. I made it through most of it with short pauses for breath and at the end literally chortled in glee.
Meanwhile, it seems that without instrumental backup, I can’t whistle two notes of any tune together. I guess my grandson’s right in calling me a karaoke whistler. So what? It’s how I can participate in my favorite music. I just try not to do it when others can hear.