Can we talk about music tonight? We can? Yay! You guys are awesome!
Music has always been an integral part of my life. Two of my earliest (and fondest) memories involve my musical maternal grandparents. (I love alliteration. Just sayin’. Anyway.)
My grandfather was a quiet and rather strict man, whom I always approached with a great deal of respect and a smidgen of fear. The one time he ever let down his metaphorical hair was when he would pull out his violin and give my siblings, cousins and me an impromptu concert, the highlight of which was “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Try as I might, my little eyes never could catch his finger making the string “pop,” but I can still see his face breaking into a rare smile when he saw our awestruck faces over “Grandpa’s magic finger.” My grandmother would follow the Weasel on the piano with songs that would set our little feet to dancing (and I use that term in the loosest possible manner). One of my favorites was “The Doll Dance” by Nacio Herb Brown, who I later discovered wrote some of my favorite numbers in Singin’ in the Rain. Those concerts were one of the few occasions where noise and chaos were allowed to reign supreme in my grandparents’ house. When the music died away, we all knew that was the cue to go off to bed…until I was older and was allowed to stay up a little later to play Yahtzee, and then it was time to get the pajama pants beat off of me by my grandmothers.
When I was a small child (like, five almost six years old small), my parents started me in piano lessons. I took to it like a proverbial duck takes to water. There was one point early on where I remember wanting to quit because it was really challenging, and (not to toot my own horn) I wasn’t used to things being challenging. I’m so glad that my parents didn’t let me give it up. I fell in love with classical piano music and continued with piano all through high school, competing at local and regional levels before moving to competing nationally.
I had everything planned out…conservatory, winning fame at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, and then dedicating a solitary life to music. I had a reality check when I looked at the cost of tuition, and went off to join the Navy as a musician. Naturally, the Navy said I had too much aptitude for electronics to be a musician, and being seventeen, I said, “Okay!” It turned out fine and I got a very awesome career and an amazing husband out of that deal. Today, I practice much less than six hours a day and I teach four little boys piano lessons every week. The soundtrack is still the first thing I notice in every (and I mean every) movie that I watch. Some of the best moments in my life come with a soundtrack of their own. I’ve already mentioned “Pop Goes the Weasel” and “The Doll Dance,” but, being in a reminiscent kind of mood, there are a few more that I want to highlight here tonight.
- Ride in a Blimp by Lynn Freeman Olson. This is the piece I played in one of my first piano recitals. I got to use the black keys and the pedal, and my young ear loved that they created. It had a picture of an elegant garden on the front, which had nothing to do with a blimp at all, but it was the starting place for many a princess daydream. I just ordered the sheet music for my oldest son to use in our piano recital later this summer. (*sniff*) Incidentally, his copy does have a picture of a blimp on the front.
- Minuet in G by Johann Sebastian Bach. This is the first classical (okay, technically baroque) piece I ever played and it is a favorite of all three of my boys today. It is the first piece I remember my grandfather praising after I played it. Praise from him was a huge deal, and it made this little minuet a big deal to me.
- Kokomo by The Beach Boys. My Nana taught my little sister and me a line dance to this song. It was an even bigger deal because she let us dress up in her crinolines and frilly dancing skirts when we performed the dance for our parents at the end of our weekend at her house. Every time I hear this song, I think of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Nana’s gazebo with the bamboo forest and koi ponds, breakfasting on Lucky Charms in the sunroom, and her cat Kika of the blue and green eyes.
- Handel’s Messiah. My children’s choir sang several of the songs from this epic cantata during our Christmas musical, and it was the first time I braved singing a solo in front of a large audience. I got to wear blush because we were under a spotlight, and my red yarn bow tie didn’t want to stay under my collar where it was supposed to be. I remember the candlelight, the smell of the pine wreaths, and the flash of pride in my director’s eyes when we were given the traditional ovation during the “Hallelujah” chorus.
- Falling Leaves by Carl Kölling. I won my first ever piano competition with this piece. This was the day where I learned that jean skirts, while okay for church, were not okay for competitions. I also realized that the waiting is infinitely less than the performance itself.
- In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg. When I was at music camp during my junior year of high school, my classmates and I performed this for the end-of-camp concert as a sixteen-piano ensemble. It was big and loud and totally epic. I loved every second.
- Appalachian Spring, Fanfare for the Common Man and Hoedown by Aaron Copland. These are the songs that made me love more modern (and I use that loosely) composers. Before this, if it wasn’t written prior to the early 1800’s, I wanted nothing to do with it. After I discovered Copland’s use of dissonance and harmonic resolution, my musical world expanded drastically. I still had no idea what popular music was, but my repertoire expanded to include the music of composers such as Khatchaturian, Ravel, Debussy and Gershwin. However, Copland has the ability to make my heart soar like few other composers.
- Proud to be an American by Lee Greenwood. This is the song that they played at the end of Battle Stations in boot camp. It is the song that was playing when I received my Navy ball cap and was formally recognized as a United States Sailor. It still has the power to make me bawl my eyes out every time it plays. The Star-Spangled Banner is the only song that makes the waterworks start even faster.
- One More Time by Daft Punk. I associate this song with being on my own for the first time. After boot camp while I was in my first of many technical schools, the Gurnee Mills Mall in Illinois was a popular weekend hang-out spot for young sailors like myself. Every time I hear this song it takes me back to those Jam Van rides to the mall, the mortification of being dragged into Victoria’s Secret by my friend for the first time, getting my hair cut at a “real” salon, and going to the movie theater for the first time since I was five, where I saw Disney’s Cinderella and was terrified by Lucifer’s huge gaping mouth when he tried to eat Gus-Gus. (The movies Miss Congeniality, Save the Last Dance, Tomb Raider, The Mummy Returns and The Emperor’s New Groove have the same effect.)
- Would You Go With Me? by Josh Turner. This is the song that my husband used when he proposed. This was only one of the best moments of my life, even though I had had a wisdom tooth out earlier that day and was loopy, bruised, drooling and in some serious pain. I figured that if he could love me enough to propose when I was such a hot mess, everything else would be downhill from there. Love that guy.
- Sweet, Sweet Baby by Michelle Featherstone. I take it back. This is the song that will bring on a crying spree faster than you can say “Quidditch.” After Toddler (my first baby from scratch) was born, the hospital photographer did a photo shoot with his soft, yellow blanket, the hideous olive-green chair in the recovery room, and a battered wicker basket. When she brought the slideshow of the pictures she’d taken, this was the song playing in the background. I utterly fell to pieces. I was so in love with my little guy already, but seeing him from her perspective tore me apart. It still does.
There are so many more, but listing them will take more time and emotional energy than I am prepared to commit at this moment. As it is, I’m this close to becoming a sloppy, teary mess all over this post. Dang pregnancy hormones.
What songs are included in your life’s soundtrack?