It’s been four weeks since I walked through the career change I wrote about in earlier postings, Endings and Beginnings, and during the more recent days I’ve found myself recalling early memories associated with my musical roots. It has been such a rich segment of the journey to closure, leaving me amazed at the arc of my early-developing love of music, my development as a musician, my experiences as a performer, and my career in the music business.
I have often said that I never worked a day in my life in the music industry. (I shudder thinking of a couple of colleagues who might agree far too quickly.) I was, instead, living the dream of a child of the 60s. Music was one of the greatest gifts in life, and to be able to participate in it every day AND get paid for it was “living the dream,” especially for a teenager growing up in San Francisco. Even some the secondary dreams of my adolescence were fulfilled in my career, e.g., what music fan in high school during that era didn’t dream of being able to wear jeans and t-shirts every day and go to concerts in the evenings and on weekends? Come on, those were the days of “battles of the bands” during high school assemblies. Life revolved around rock ‘n roll. Wow.
So where did my love of music begin? I’m convinced there was a “bent” toward the arts in my early years, but it’s very clear that being exposed to music with classical roots every Sunday in our church peaked my interest. The huge pipe organ, with its myriad of voicings, was always fascinating to me. Every Sunday I was either mesmerized by it or complaining that I hadn’t heard enough. As I write this I realize that modern-day didn’t exist during my childhood, but the pipe organ provided the very same earth-shaking, chest-thumping low frequency sounds that still thrill audiences. (I miss the extensive palette of colors and massive power of such instruments.)
Unquestionably, one of the most significant contributors to the development of my love for music is Leonard Bernstein, who was the conductor and music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969. Bernstein, noteworthy for a broad-based contribution to both classical and popular music, was a tireless protagonist for an entire generation of burgeoning music lovers. His commitment to educating America’s youth in the appreciation of music spawned an invaluable series of programs, Young People’s Concerts, that were shown in schools across the country as part of art appreciation curriculums. Bernstein’s passion and his gift for sharing it with young audiences captivated me and built the foundation for my engagement with music. In fact, the only reason I know for choosing the cello as my instrument of choice in the third grade was because of my exposure to the instrument from viewing his series. I was the only cellist in most of the school-related orchestras I participated in, but will never forget the culmination of my study when I was chosen to play in a 50-piece orchestra that included professional players in each of the sections. The performance was for a ticketed event in one of the beautiful venues in the heart of San Francisco. A black tie event. I was living the dream that Bernstein had ignited and fueled during those early years!
At some point in my adult life I began describing great music as “music that reaches deep down into a person and pulls out something they didn’t know was there.” The music gives voice to that something, and the listener is invited to experience a new depth and range of emotions. It wasn’t until this past week that I realized the roots of these words also came from those early experiences with Bernstein. I ran across the following film clip, and there it was. Bernstein had taught me that truth decades ago!
What are your earliest recollections of appreciating the gift of music?