This morning I felt like listening to some soothing classical music. I chose Chopin. Immediately upon the first note I found myself transported to many different places and thinking of several people. Music, much like literature, is magical in the way it allows you to revisit other times and places and I think I could choose music that would suitably personify every joyful as well as painful moment in my life.
As a very young child I was exposed to music made by my family. My biological father’s side of the family was quite musical, in an unschooled, country kind of way. They did not have a lot of extra time or cash for leisure or entertainment so making music together was their form of entertainment. My father’s mother played the piano by ear and at a young age was thrown into the dance hall music business when her father required someone to accompany him at local dances. He played the fiddle and she played the piano while the locals danced the night away.
Whenever I hear fiddle, mandolin, banjo and piano music it takes me back to a time that I can hardly remember because I was so young but the music does something to my psyche that allows me to recall late night barn dances and early mornings when us kids would head out to the barn to eat the leftover take-out Chinese food and scavenge for the coins in the straw that had dropped out of the frolicking adult’s pockets. The singing sound of a good fiddle reel can bring me to want to jump up and step dance or dissolve into a puddle of tears, neither of which I have much explanation or control over.
Classical music pieces also stir up memories and stories for me. This morning as I listen to Chopin, I think of my dear friend Ester and her daughter Kristi, both whom are extremely talented pianists. Movie-like scenes form in my mind, of their dreamy, other worldly look and demeanour, as they escape into a magical relationship with the keys and notes. Listening to these pieces makes me feel, in some small way that I am connected to them and their world. My story becomes bigger because I have been witness to their musical gift. I am connected not to only them but also their families, their friends, their farm and of course the forest that we would often visit on our walking forays after an evening of music, conversation and fine food. I can picture Ester’s parents which causes another set of stories to unfold in my head, especially those of their resilience, resourcefulness and faith, as they have made their journey through life-threatening escape, young love, family, hard work and finally, an old age surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren on a beautiful farm nestled away safely along side the mountains.
Although classical music can stir fond memories it also has the ability to take me back to the days when I somewhat unwillingly studied music. I wanted to take piano lessons and my Mom was so keen to do all she could to give me opportunities she never had as a child, that she enrolled me with a teacher when we did not even own a piano. I remember walking home from school and hurrying over to the neighbours house to use their piano to practice. Soon after my Mom bought a piano from my grandmother and I was set. The only problem being, I had already lost interest in practicing because it cut into the time I could play outside with my friends. I was a competitive swimmer and I swam every morning and everyday after school so there was not much time left for leisure activities when the swimming, homework, chores and piano practicing were factored in. Nevertheless, my Mom was a firm believer that quitters never get anywhere in life and so I stuck it out. I learned to discipline myself to practice early in the mornings so that I could squeeze in friend time as well as piano and all my other activities. I was diligent and the hard work did pay off. I was able to get my Grade 8 Royal Conservatory Certificate and although I do not have my piano with me at this time I still love to listen to many of the composers and pieces that I begrudgingly learned as I grew up. I look forward to a time when I will have my piano and perhaps be able to take more lessons. Mom was again right, the hard work and not quitting paid off.
Yesterday I was reminded again of the power of music to transport us to happier times. We received a short note in the mail from my partner’s widowed mother. She wrote of the latest event in her life which was so touching. She had recently been to a musical performance that she said took her down’ memory lane.’ She recounted how the music caused her to relive the love she had shared with her husband before his death and asked us what music might perhaps do the same for us one day. I found it so heartwarming that she would share such precious memories with her son and I. What a beautiful gift.
Another genre of music, (country) that I could not stand when I was younger has since grown on me. Country music used to make me think of the ridiculousness of the lyrics and often caused me to be very sad. I had no explanation for this pervading sadness and still don’t. Now, country music makes me remember my parents on Friday nights, twirling around our living room or that of my aunt and uncle’s, dancing to the tunes of Stompin Tom Connors, Hank Snow, Hank Williams and Buck Owens. I think of my Mom singing along to Jim Reeves when we lived at my grandparent’s house and remember when she was young. I thought my mother was so beautiful, a super-model of sorts. I admired her fashionable hairstyles, her glamorous outfits and the nail polish she would carefully apply at the kitchen table. I used to think I must have been adopted because I thought I did not possess any of her striking good looks or feminine mystique. Sadly, life has taken its toll on my mother and although she is still striking with her intense blue eyes and long lean physique, she is tired and hurt, especially after the death of my oldest brother. She still enjoys a good country tune though and I love to mix her a White Russian or pour a glass of red wine and put on some country tunes in order to transport her to happier times.
Country music also reminds me of my three children. Funnily enough, it is the genre of choice for all of them. George Strait singing, I Wanna Dance with You, reminds me of when my son would crank that tune and drive me crazy. When I would tell him to turn it off he smugly reply, “come on Mom, doesn’t this remind you of Pa whistling away in Gram’s ear while they dance?” Another country song that I cannot hear without thinking of my daughter, Regan, is People Are Crazy, by Billie Currington. I can pinpoint exactly where we were the first time she played it for us. We were driving between Penticton and Vernon on our way to my son’s hockey game in my parent’s truck. When she put the song on I was immediately taken, probably because I saw such pleasure and joy in the faces of my daughter and my Dad. I still love that tune. Old Taylor Swift songs remind me of my youngest daughter and all the driving we did in her high school years. When I hear those songs I can picture us speeding along the Hope Princeton highway on our way back to Penticton or racing toward Vancouver to try catch a ferry so we can be on the island with our family and friends for holidays. I learned all the words to her early music and Hanna and I would sing away to pass the long hours of driving and to soothe our homesickness.
My Chopin playlist has ended and the house is quiet now. I am going do some long neglected paperwork, bake a treat to bring along to a friend’s presentation tomorrow night and finish the mincemeat I started yesterday. I’ll need to be focused and stay on track so I think I better choose my music wisely. I’ll need something that doesn’t stir too many memories and is not too distracting otherwise I might find myself engulfed in an unproductive, nostalgic fog again and that just won’t do. Perhaps a little ‘Saturday cleaning and chore music’ would be suitable; Billie Holiday or Thelonnius Monk? I’ll have to see.