Rimsky-Korsakov

Scheherazade

By Meg Currell

scheherazade

A few years ago my husband and kids sent me to the symphony for Mother’s Day. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra had been performing Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and Tim earmarked this event at the beginning of the symphony season as the perfect chance for me to do something just for me.

I love going to movies and live performances by myself. It’s easier to get lost in the moment. I find it taxing to be considerate of another person’s thoughts and responses. My sweet husband–as bright and thoughtful as he is–does not have the background in music that I do, and doesn’t always appreciate it the way I do.

The irony was, though the performance was on a Mother’s Day, the person who taught me to appreciate music on a deeper level was my non-musician father. My musical talent came directly from my mother’s side; she was an accomplished pianist and soprano. But my father was a completely self-taught student of music from the Baroque era to the 20th Century. He and I would sit at the dinner table after everyone else had finished, and I’d listen to him talk about libretti and composers and conductors and pianists. In that pre-Internet era, he had researched all subjects “classical” music. It was from him, the U.S. Marine/farm boy, that I first learned that “classical” is an era in the history of Western music, not a designation for all music played on WFMT in Chicago, or all music played by an orchestra. He taught me about Bach and Mozart, sonata form and the classical orchestra.

I was shocked — but shouldn’t have been — to realize my father knew at least as much as my music history and literature professors. When a subject interested him, he’d pile books on his nightstand and read endlessly. Neither he nor my mother were ever without a book. He spoke in the language of great conductors and performers, of Ashkenazy and St. Martin’s in the Field, of Emmanuel Ax and Borodin and Scriabin. He knew the prose and poetry of the Goldberg Variations, the delicate power of Debussy, the fearsomeness of Wagner and the intimacy of Chopin, the simplicity of Copland. My mother’s musical ability may have been the genesis of my interest, but there is no doubt my father’s influence propelled my fascination.

meg-quoteAnd it all started with a recording of Scheherazade. My dad loved to tell stories, often creative narratives to entice me to finish my peas. I remember when he told the vivid story of Scheherazade, the slave girl who saved her own life nightly by telling the King, who had a penchant for murdering his brides, stories whose ending required another night of telling. This was the premise of 1,001 Arabian Nights, and of my lifelong love affair with music’s magical ability to transport us from reality.

When I was around 10, he started an annual tradition of taking me on “dates,” consisting of dinner and then live performances in the city. Starting with a performance of the musical 42nd Street and carrying through multiple symphony, ballet, chamber, solo and opera performances, he taught me the beauty and wonder of live performance. We’d get dressed in our Sunday best, have dinner at amazing restaurants, and then nestle in the quiet theater, where, wide-eyed, I’d gaze upon grown-ups in beautiful clothes, some men in tuxedos, chatting casually among themselves, as if this were the most natural thing ever. To me, it was the height of sophistication, and I was careful to behave myself as well as I knew how. My father, always well dressed, was my idea of a dignified man, and I watched him closely for cues on how to comport myself. The entire experience worked together to create for me heightened expectations both of myself and of the performance. It was inebriating.

To this day, live performances by talented musicians are transcendent experiences for me, an opportunity to set aside the mundane and inhabit an enchanted world of wordless storytelling, witness musical incantations that create moments of pure magic. The musicians have worked tirelessly to perfect their art to the point where they can convey beauty and tragedy and glory and defeat and passion and grief, and in the moment of their big performance, they share it with me. Just for that moment. Small wonder that my first husband was a professional musician.

meg-quote-2So, while that visit to the symphony a few years ago was my Mother’s Day gift, I was thinking of my father. We’ve grown apart in recent years, with little hope of reconciliation. What divides us is a gulf I’ve failed to bridge. But he gave me the great gift of appreciating music and stories beyond the pleasant sounds, into the heart of human understanding.

And even now, when I listen to Scheherazade, I have his voice in my head, telling me all about the symphony from his bottomless well of musical knowledge. The rift will disappear, and I’ll be his kid again, sharing that moment of transient beauty.

 

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Rimsky-Korsakov

Tchaikovsky

Theme from Swan Lake

By Theresa Snyder

Theresa pic 2

Mom at 20 showing off her new suit

 

Our home was always full of music when I was growing up. As an adult it has continued to be such at my home.

I was raised on classical music. My mother dreamed of being an opera singer when she was younger. She was a soprano with a three octave range whose voice instructor insisted on telling the surgeon how to remove her tonsils without threatening her career.

Mother used to encourage her mother and father to take the rest of the family out for picnics on Sunday after church. She would rush home, with the promise to clean the house and do the ironing, if she could only listen to the Sunday opera broadcast on the radio in peace.

Sometimes reality gets in the way of dreams. Mother married and had a family, but she never lost her love of music.

To her way of thinking, a cup of tea, a piece of classical music and a long chat could solve any problem.

She loved the power of Beethoven and Bach, the playfulness of Mozart, the commanding voice of Mario Lanza or Caruso, and the playfulness of Jeanette McDonald.

By the time I was in my teens I could hum along with most classical pieces from heart, but never bothered to learn the composer’s names or the names of the compositions. When I left home and become a writer, I found myself listening to classical music. Unlike music with lyrics, it was not a distraction while I wrote. Later, when my mother passed away, I started to listen to the classical station on the radio. It brought back fond memories of her and our lives together.

I longed to have some of the pieces mother had. When I would hear one I recognized on the radio, I would often sit in the car until it was finished, even though that might mean I was late to work. I would write down the composer, take the information to the local music store and ask one of the staff to suggest the best recording of that piece.

Theresa pic 1I found out two of my favorites were Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov and Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. Both of these pieces transport me into an almost ‘out of body’ experience. I can visualize the action. The storyteller of Scheherazade in the Arabian tent of the Sultan appears before me to weave her story and prolong her life. The swans effortlessly glide across the lake of my imagination in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake until confronted by the hunter.

And during both pieces I can hear the click of the spoon in mother’s cup as she stirs her tea and her soft voice smoothing the wrinkles out of my current problem. They call it ‘classical’ for a reason. It is timeless and oh so memorable.

Swan Lake Main Theme on YouTube

Scheherazade Main Theme on YouTube

 

Tchaikovsky