Saturday, September 25, 2010

First Love: Tonight We Love


On NPR, classical music fans are telling stories about the first piece of classical music that meant something to them.

Here's my story.

Before going to college, I listened exclusively to rock and to music from Broadway musicals. In my house, music was something you found on the radio. I can't remember my parents ever having a record player, but my grandfather bought me one, just a simple turntable so I could listen to the Broadway musicals I loved at ten.

Good music, which was what my parents called classical music, was not played in our house. Music was to dance to. It was background. I took it more seriously and so did my brother a few years later. Rock music, that is.

One night however, I was listening to Lawrence Welk (okay, no need to sneer) and a song came on, played by the Freddie Martin Orchestra. It was called Tonight We Love. I went out and bought a copy of it and played it incessantly.

Flash forward to 1965 when I am off to college. I take this album, along with my Beetles, Supremes, and other such groups. Not a huge selection though. I still heard most of music on the radio.

There was a girl rooming down the hall from me who was more hip than anyone else. A sort of minor league Janis Joplin who played all sorts of cool music, dressed cool, was cool. She stood out at my religious college. She was a beatnik, people said. A hippie.

To impress her with my sophisticated musical tastes, I invited her over to hear my favorite, Tonight We Love." She listened politely and then took me back to her room to share a piece of music. It was, of course, the famous concerto Tonight We Love was taken from: Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto Number One in B Minor. It was a thrilling moment. That the little dollop of music on Tonight We Love blossoming into such an amazing work.

Although I know now that piece of music is not as highly regarded as many other works, it will always be my favorite piece of music because it opened the door to so-called "good music" for me. I am not the huge fan of classical music that my husband is, but I am very content to hear it from across the hall, across the room, in the car, or sitting next to him at a concert hall.

What about you? Can you remember what turned you on to classical music if, in fact, anything did.

26 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I didn't discover classical music until graduate school, and then I discovered that a lot of classical music has a strong connection to heavy metal music. The best classical music is powerful, booming, emotionally intense. Such as Holst's "The Planets," or many of Bach's and Beethoven's symphonies. One metal band even did a metal version of "The Hall of the MOuntain King," which I thought was very cool.

Richard R. said...

Great story, Patti.

I listened to classical music from age 7 or 8, when it was played on the radio and on records by my parents and older brother. Because everything my older brother did and liked impressed me, I decided that music must be grown-up and sophisticated. I didn't really understand it, couldn't name any of it other than Beethoven's 5th and Night on Bald Mountain (from the Disney animated short). In high school I paid more attention, though I still listened mostly to rock and some jazz. I bought a few albums, mostly piano concertos. As a freshman in college I took a music appreciation course in program music and that was the real epiphany for me. "Death and Transfiguration", "The Moldau", "The Planets" immediately became favorites and still are. From there is was only a matter of listening more, learning more, expanding my ear for the music and performances. I was slower to appreciate chamber music until, in my Junior year, I saw the Julliard Quartet live. I still am not a fan of opera, but most other classical music fascinates me.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Now that gave you an early jump on "good" music, Rick.
Most of what I know about classical music came from the mouth of Karl Haas. He was quite a jewel.
Yes, I like the powerful stuff too. And more, the romantic music. My husband likes the Baroque.

BV Lawson said...

I've been submersed in classical music since in utero, thanks to my music-loving parents and violin lessons at age 3, choir at age 3, piano age 6, etc. Thus it's hard to remember the first piece I fell in love with. I do recall an early connection to Brahms--he can be fairly Romantic in that period's best traditions without going overboard (I've had a special affinity for the Intermezzo in A major from Opus 118 for awhile). I have so many favorites, but I do know that every time I hear Richard Strauss' "Four Last Songs" I always cry. It never fails, one reason I don't listen to them too often. (Try Elizabeth Schwarzkopf's version -- absolutely heartbreaking.)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Grandson is taking violin at age 3. What did you think of it if you can remember. He's doing it for a quarter a day so he can buy toys with his profits. He does seem musical though.

George said...

My roommate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was a Arts Administration Major. He had about 2000 classical music vinyl albums crowding his space. He also had a very good stereo. Every evening was concert night. I heard hundreds of hours of classic music. Some I liked, some I didn't. But I begin to listen seriously and buy albums of music and artists that I liked.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It is amazing how much we learned out of the classroom at college. I wonder if he knows what a great impact he had on you.
Helen-wherever you are, thanks.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - You always ask such interesting questions! I grew up in a home where classical music was played. My father listened to it quite a bit, and most of us took music lessons where we learned to play it. My first real exploration of it, though, was in a music appreciation class I took in high school. Interesting how your post brought that back....

Erik Donald France said...

I guess little bits here and there as a kid, followed by an attempt at total immersion around age 18-19, which was easy via libraries. I'm more of a jazz and blues person at heart, but I do dig a number of classical stuff, too (though I rarely play it). And rock. And just about anything else if it's got game.

A lot if it becomes absorbed into movie soundtracks, and that's another way to pick up bits here and there.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, my kids grew up with classical music playing all the time but I don't notice either of them being great fans. My son is jazz and rock. Megan, more alternative, Sinatra and bluesy stuff. Although I should not speak for them and probably have it all wrong.

le0pard13 said...

Great recollection, patti. For me it was my 8th grade music appreciation class in junior high. I sat in the back of the class because I assumed it was going to be the most boring semester stint ever. It ended up being my favorite class that year (the one I looked forward to in the anticipation of what the teacher would spring on us). Thanks for this.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Now I had that eighth grade music appreciation class too. His name was Mr. Bailey and when he entered the room we all had to rise and say, "Good morning, Mr. Bailey."
On the final test, he'd put on a piece of music, raise the needle after a minute or two, and we had to identify not just the composer and name of the piece but what movement it was. He did more to make his classes hate music than love it. It was all about him showing us up. Too bad and I am glad your experience was a good one.

Cullen Gallagher said...

I think it was Glenn Gould playing Bach's Goldberg Variations, because Miles Davis made some reference to it. Later I saw Eyes Wide Shut which introduced me to Ligeti, which opened the doors to Penderecki and a whole slew of other modernist composers which changed the way I thought about music.

BV Lawson said...

Patti, I barely remember taking the violin at age 3, especially since quit around age 5 when my teacher moved, but I wish I'd kept it up! Piano, too, for that matter. (Although I did get 2 degrees in music.) I love many different types of music, from rock to world to folk to jazz to technopop, but classical music for me is "home." It's where I have the deepest, shall I say "spiritual" connection with music. And with over 1,000 years of such music to choose from, there's something for everyone's taste.

Chris said...

It hit me in 1981 when I saw the movie Excalibur. The music by Wagner blew me away, of course, but I also discovered Carl Orff. In particular, there is a scene when Arthur has recovered after drinking from the Grail, and his knights are riding through the countryside to face Mordred's dark army. As they pass through the countryside, all the land is blooming in their wake, and "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana is playing. That utterly blew me away.

pattinase (abbott) said...

So many pieces of music have come to me through movies. And it used to be much harder to identify them.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Glenn Gould probably brought more people to music than any other classical performer. And I love the movie about him.

Deb said...

In the mid-1970s, while I was still in high school, I purchased a Time-Life Collection of Great Composers (as with the Lawrence Welk reference, no need to sneer), with one record devoted to each of the "greats." (I can still see those record covers in my mind, although the records are long gone.) I played the overture to "The Marriage of Figaro" from the Mozart record over and over. It was the first time I was aware of how transcendent a piece of music could be--and how much it must take to write and play music like that.

In college, I had a music appreciation class taught by a wonderful woman--that really opened my eyes to many of the greats (and lesser-knowns) of the classical world. I also got into a lot of Renaissance & Medieval music, which all started when I purchased a record by the Cambridge Consort titled "Love and Dalliance in Renaissance France" because I loved the album cover.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Nice that you saw the need to educate yourself and went out and did it.

Todd Mason said...

Wow. So no one else, at least so far, was raised in a home where classical music was already in the musical library...by the time I was picking my own music, my parents were listening to WAY too much "easy listening" radio, and nearly that exclusively, and I mean the kind that leaned heavily on the 101 Strings and Percy Faith and might get as wild as Brasil '66 on rare occasion...but they had a good record collection they didn't listen too much to any longer...full of classical (leaning Romantic, but ranging from the slightest bit of Baroque to Varese's "Poeme Electronique," which I could "sing" most of), jazz, a bit of folk, a bit of early rock and lots of '60s cha-cha and similar dance music (when infra-dig hipsters brought Enoch Light around to the radio stations where I also dj'd, I could tell them about the albums they didn't yet have).

Despite the annoying name of his program, Karl Haas was one of the bright lights of commercial radio.

Several metal bands have done "In the Hall of the Mountain King"...and at least one speed-metal/hardcore punk outfit, Steve Niles' band iirc.

My own tastes in "classical" music are catholic, but range from the "early" pre-Baroque to the latest in the traditions. My radio shows have always had a 20th/21st "classical" component. Holst's "Jupiter" piece of THE PLANETS suite has to bave been one of the most plagiarized pieces of music in film scoring so far.

Todd Mason said...

Oh, and I'd suggest that Leonard Bernstein probably the greatest popularizer of "classical" music of the last century, at least in the States...though Haas is up there, too, along with the personality cult around Gould.

CBS Records had so many cult-center artists.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am unable to derive any pleasure from atonal music although my husband seems to. A friend of my husband's from grad school just wrote a bio on Bernstein: Barry Seldes. Must read it.

Todd Mason said...

Well, not all "modern" music is atonal, by any means...though, say, Hindemith's best work includes much of his neo-Baroque work...but Hovanhess and Barber and Britten and Vaugh Williams and not a few of their heirs are not atonal at all (and Varese with the "Poeme" goes beyond anything the atonalists were working toward).

Another member of George Seldes's clan? (Marian, Timothy, etc.)

Todd Mason said...

And, of course, Rick also had a family collection of classical music...too much my writing on the fly, as always, here.

pattinase (abbott) said...

http://www.amazon.com/Leonard-Bernstein-Political-American-Musician/dp/0520257642/ref=sr_1_2?s=gateway&ie=UTF8&qid=1285538024&sr=8-2

Nice to see the research project of a lifetime come about. He teaches at Rider (sp? ) college in NJ. Or did.

Todd Mason said...

Rider U...at least now. And apologies to BV, too, another classical baby.