The past few months, something has changed. I have been doing something that, really, I haven’t done in years. I have been listening to music.
You might be saying to yourself right now –WHAT? Of course she listens to music, she’s a musician! But there is a big difference between listening to music because you need to study or learn something, and, well, just listening to music.
Because it pleases you.
Because it helps you relax.
Because it helps you feel at one with all creation.
That kind of music listening, well, that hasn’t happened in a very, very long time.
My father was a musician, well, a retired musician by the time that I came into his life. And what I most remember is this: there was never any music in our house — no stereo, no radio, nothing — except what happened rarelywhen he sat and improvised at the piano that he bought for me to play (or, if I myself was playing). My father didn’t listen to music and he didn’t allow it in the house.
I never found out why there was no music. I do remember that my uncle Bill was always trying to get my Dad interested in listening to music…he even carried his big stereo system to our house, along with a big box of records and tried to make my Dad listen to recordings in the living room by opening a fancy bottle of scotch to share. It was not a good evening.
But then, one year at Christmas, everything changed: I asked for a stereo for Christmas, and he bought it for me. And along with it, he gave me my first classical music record: a recording of Beethoven violin and piano concertos, featuring Vladimir Ashkenazy and Izthak Perlman.
I was 12 or 13, not sure which, but thanks to a kind-of faded photograph that I still have in a box in my closet, I can see that Christmas morning quite clearly. There I sat, posing for the traditional “Christmas morning with the gifts” picture, stringy pseudo-hippy long hair, low-rider bell-bottom slacks, fuzzy fake cashmere sweater, and that worn, tired look on my face that so describes the way I remember holidays feeling at the home of my youth…as if the excess of liquid holiday cheer would never end. But there, in my hands, was the requested stereo and in this picture I cling to it as if it is a life preserver.
And, in the end, it was. That stereo opened a whole world to me with every record I acquired: Beethoven symphonies, Bach, Wagner, Carole King, Neil Diamond, Carly Simon, Broadway show tunes, feminist folk music, and finally on to opera and so much more. And music provided a soft buffer between me and the goings on in the rest of the house; it helped me start to build a world of my own and it gave me some measure of peace. Everyone knew that, if you could hear E. Power Biggs playing Wagner overtures on his mighty organ, well, then Susan was doing her history homework and she should not be disturbed.
But then, one day, the music stopped–listening to music stopped, that is. Classical music radio was replaced by talk radio and podcasts, going to concerts was replaced by giving concerts, there was, I thought, only time to make music — no reason to just listen. Until two months ago.
One day, in irritation about yet another talk show about the media-defined horse race that was the mid-term elections, I decided that I had had enough of the talking heads and I switched the radio dial to our local classical station (okay, I’m not that old, I switched stations in my ITunes radio tuner). And there it has been, ever since.
Suddenly, I realized what I had been missing or perhaps unable to accept. As Shakespeare wrote and Purcell set to music: “If Musik be the food of Love, play on!” It was time to play on, and to listen on, for, to my soul, music is indeed a manifestation of love, and love is to be given AND to be received.
I am quite happy with the gift I have given myself this Christmas season: again, the gift of music and the gift of love. So if you see me, know that in my life, the words of that wonderful spiritual are the rule of my being:
Over my head, I hear music in the air
There must be a God somewhere.
Even if I’m just walking down the street and you don’t see any earbuds.