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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

Musical Education

January 16, 2011

Tags: order, Anka - Paul (born 1941), Bach - Johann Sebastian (1685 to1750), Beatles, Beethoven - Ludwig van (1770-1827), cello, classical music, daily practice, Everly Brothers, flute, gramophone, Holt - John (1923-1985), Kleine Nachtmusik, Monteverdi – Claudio (1567-1643), Mozart – Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791, music, musical education, Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story, Pachelbel - Johann (1653-1706), piano, pop music, records – 45er, Tchaikovsky – Peter (1840-1893), Telemann – Georg Philipp (1681-1767), Wagner – Richard (1813-1883)

Music, art, books – they all round out a healthy life to make it fulfilled and happy. Here I have a confession to make: When it comes to music, I am outmoded: I prefer classical music.

BUT it is not my fault. Here is how I was brought up and how my tastes were formed:

As a child, my father would sit the kids on the sofa, in a row, and would play endless records for them, mostly Beethoven and Wagner. We children were bored, predictably, and eagerly waited for him to get his fill of rum and milk to fall asleep. He was a brilliant doctor, and a hopeless boozer. At those moments, we children didn’t mind him drinking – we prayed he’d get drunk fast enough so that we could get away and play.

At around twelve – like all teenagers then – I fell in love with Elvis Presley, with Paul Anka, with the Everly Brothers. For my thirteenth birthday, I got a gramophone – the first among my friends; one could play 45er records on it.

But then my parents shipped us off to boarding school; family life had become too unpleasant. The boarding school was housed in an old castle, with bastion, cannons and forgotten towers, and the rules were strict: All music was verboten. No radio, no gramophone – cassettes had not been invented, I think, and CDs were far in the future. For several years I had no access to music – except for my piano lessons by a flamboyant Hungarian teacher who was a sensation in our all-girls boarding school.

Every morning, at assembly, some girl performed a musical piece, on the piano, violin, flute, for the edification of all of us, allowing us to doze a few more minutes. Tchaikovsky was already too modern for the taste of our stern headmistress, which resulted in a bland musical diet of Bach, Pachelbel, Telemann, Monteverdi. You get the idea – no more Everly Brothers.

One teacher had a young wife who was just a bored as we girls were. She invited a few of us over for tea and – gasp! – subversive music; she also owned a gramophone. The music she introduced us to, never had I heard anything that heavenly! It was Mozart’s Kleine Nachtmusik. This music became the battle song of our secret rebellion – those sixteen-year-old girls in their school uniforms, sipping tea, and plotting their future lives. Oh, our lives had to be so different from our parents!

In case you think that the morning assemblies were our only exposure to music – we also had ballroom dancing lessons. Without boys, of course. And what we learned was – foxtrot? No! waltz? No! rumba? No! – we learned quadrille! Quadrille is an old-fashioned dance, slightly more modern than minuet, and actually the forerunner of square dancing. No wonder that the summer I turned seventeen and learned English in Bournemouth/Great Britain, I went out every single night to the Ritz Ballroom and danced rock’n’ roll. Except for Sundays, when everything was closed. And I thought it must be awful to be old – like, twenty-five! – and not go rock’n’rolling anymore.

When I came out of jail, uh, boarding school, to my own surprise, I had outgrown Elvis. The world meanwhile was crazy about the Beatles. But I had become jaded; I couldn’t get interested in pop music anymore. Instead I went to endless Wagner operas – they couldn’t be long enough for me - and classical concerts whenever I could afford them.

For fifty bucks I bought an old piano plus a piano stool and a huge heap of ancient sheet music. All classical. Playing piano all night helped me greatly getting over boyfriends that had dumped me.

Fast-forward to my six-year-old son declaring he wanted to learn cello. Nobody in the family had ever thought of cello! In his first Suzuki lesson I fell in love with the sound of the cello (which in itself is another convoluted story). Because I didn’t want to take it away from him, I waited until he turned to acoustic bass in his teens. Then I took up cello lessons – am still taking lessons now, years later. Even as a late starter, I am finally out of being a beginner; I am solidly intermediate now and play my cello every day.

There is a wonderful old book by John Holt: Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story. He took up the cello later in life – a story similar to what I am telling here, only degrees more obsessive!

If you do something only ten minutes every day, you can’t but get better. And: It is never too late.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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