Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Dad's Stereo

From as far back as I can remember I have loved music.

One of the very first birthday presents I can remember, or at least that left an impression on me, was a small 45 record player. I thought it was so cool that I could play my own music on my very own record player – just like Mom and Dad played their music on the big record player in the living room. I would sit in my room by myself for hours, playing Disney records. My parents recognized this love of music and, during my early years, I received many music-themed gifts, such as toys that you could “play” music on. They even bought me a small electric keyboard at one point.

Even as a very small child, my favorite part of our church service was singing the hymns. My Dad would hold the hymn book to where I could see it and would point to the words as we sang so that I could follow along. Even today, when we sing one of those old hymns, which in these modern times is now projected onto a screen, in my mind, I'm following along in the hymn book, watching my dad's calloused finger following along with the music.

Music class was always one of my favorite classes growing up, right along with art class and English class. And my favorite part of being in Girl Scouts was that we regularly sang campfire songs. The very first symphony concert I attended was when I was 8 years old and it was Beethoven’s Fifth. I can even remember the very first cassette tape I ever bought (Welcome to the Real World by Mr. Mister), and of course, I can remember the first CD I ever owned (In Utero by Nirvana - my musical tastes had grown since that first cassette... ha ha).

When given the choice of attending my junior prom or going to a rock concert, I chose the concert without a second thought. In college, I took as many music classes one could possibly take as electives, without being a music major or minor. In fact, music brought my husband and I together. That, however, is another story for another time. The point is music has always been a love of mine, throughout my life.

When most people say they grew up “surrounded by music”, that usually refers to the fact that their parents or members of their family sang or played instruments. I grew up surrounded by music, but my parents, for the most part, did not play any instruments. They just loved listening to music.

I have fond memories of my mom putting on her favorite records as she cleaned the house and did chores. She loved top 40 rock and pop tunes and modern country western music. My mom took me to my first rock and roll concert when I was about 11 years old.

Dad actually did play a few instruments. He played the trombone when he was in high school and, when I was growing up, he played the ukulele (more as the occasional party trick than anything) and he played the harmonica.

What he played the most though, were records. He had a huge record collection: Elvis, classical guitar, the old country western music where they told cowboy stories, classical symphonies, jazz and swing, harpsichord and organ music, comedy records like Bill Cosby, 60s and 70s rock and roll, the Boston Pops – you name it, he had it. I used to love looking at all the different album covers. I’d sit on the floor and pull them out and admire the artwork, and then carefully put them back.

My dad would listen to music that he didn’t even especially like, in order to learn more about it and come to appreciate it. I remember he'd purchased a retrospective collection of big band and swing music and was listening to it, and reading the book that had come with it. I had asked him if it was some of his favorite music and he said, "No, not really. But I'm interested in how it came to be, and how it evolved into early rock and roll." He was a connoisseur of music, with a desire to explore every aspect of it, to taste and sample it all, instead of limiting himself to just the music he liked. No matter what type of music you liked, my dad could always strike up a conversation with you about it.

He was that way about a lot of things.

Our stereo system was in the living room, and my father would normally listen to his music in the evenings with headphones on, so as not to disturb anyone trying to watch TV in the nearby family room. One of my most vivid and cherished memories, centers around that stereo. I was very young, maybe 5 or 6 years old, and my dad called me into the living room and told me he had something he wanted me to listen to. I climbed up into the big blue chair and he helped me put on the gigantic black padded headphones with their spiraled cords. They were so heavy and I was so little, I remember feeling like they were going to topple me over so I rested my head back on the chair. They blocked out all sound completely, which was a little scary, but then they were filled with the most beautiful music I’d ever heard. To this day, I find that I am at a loss for words to describe how beautiful and magical that moment was. It was like my father had opened a secret door onto a wonderful world that I didn't even know existed. I was captivated.

Ater the song ended, my dad lifted up the headphones and told me the story about the composer, Beethoven. He told about how he had gone deaf but still made music, even though he couldn’t hear it. The piece he had played for me was called "Für Elise”, performed in all its beauty on piano with a full orchestra accompaniment. (To this day, I absolutely cringe every time I hear someone clobbering “Für Elise” on a piano. It's unfortunate that it has become such a common piano recital song, and is so very rarely heard or performed with a true understanding heart and master hand. But I digress...) I begged to hear more, so my dad played “Moonlight Sonata” for me. Again, there are no words to describe how the music moved me, or how vivid this memory is to me, to this day. When it was over, I remember asking my dad why it was so sad. He told me that some people thought Beethoven had written it for a girl he loved, but she rejected him and broke his heart.

I was hooked and found myself, more often than not, drifting into the living room and sharing the headphones with my dad in the big blue chair instead of playing with my toys in the other room.

My dad, among other things, was a skilled mechanic. He had turned one side of our garage into a shop and he was always outside tinkering on something or working on the neighbor’s car. He had a stereo in his shop, which was always tuned in to the oldies station. I used to love to sit on his stool by the workbench, listen to the music and watch him work. He would occasionally stop what he was doing and tell me stories about some of the songs, like how he was actually dating a girl named Cathy when the song “Cathy’s Clown” was popular, or he would tell me stories about the artists, like how Buddy Holly died in an airplane crash. I listened to oldies almost exclusively in my pre-teen years, shunning the current top 40 rock and pop tunes for oldies and doo-wop instead. If I was inside the house, and the radio station was playing one of my favorite songs, the door to the garage would pop open and my dad would call me outside: “Hey! They’re playing ‘Blue Moon’!” And I would drop everything and run outside to listen. I had a teacher in high school that was always whistling oldies tunes, and he was continually mystified that I could identify them.

Everyone has experienced that moment, when you hear a song and instantly you are transported to the summer you were 14 years old and hanging out by the pool, or some other vivid memory. Music is magical that way. For me, not only is music simply a reminder of fond memories and different times and places in my life, but most of all, music helps me remember and feel close to my dad, who has passed away, 11 years ago today. When I hear one of his songs, I’m instantly transported back to his shop in the garage, or to the blue chair in the living room and the big giant headphones, or to the passenger seat of his truck. I can’t eat at a “5 and Diner” restaurant or go to a symphony or concert without feeling like he’s nearby.

And it always makes me smile.

I started out writing this article to explain the importance of music to me, but I think I knew all the while what I really wanted to do was talk about my dad a little. And in some way, thank him again, for passing on his passion and love of music to me. It is truly a gift that I cherish.

And thanks to you, Loyal Readers, for taking this little musical biographical journey with me. If you like, leave me a comment with a song (and maybe a link to it on YouTube?) that brings back a vivid memory for you. Let's share some music today. My dad would have enjoyed that... :-)


D.L. White said...

Here's one to get us started...

It was a couple of weeks past my birthday and Shawn and I had just started dating. So he bought me a belated birthday present... the soundtrack to my all-time favorite movie, "The Crow".

I nearly married him right then and there. ;)

Here's one of my favorite songs off the soundtrack - "Burn" by The Cure

One of the best scenes in the movie too... where Eric Draven becomes The Crow.

WriterGirl316 said...

Most people know that I am a Neil Diamond fan, but most also have no idea why. Similar to Davina's Dad, my Dad loved music, especially Neil Diamond. He wasn't as much of a connoisseur as he was an admirer. Anyways, he introduced me to Neil when I was about ten years old. I could never explain why my favorite song was "September Morn," but I loved it more than all the others.
Oddly enough (or perhaps coincidentially enough), John and I were baptized on September 30th. It was one of the best days of my life. I remember at one point during the baptism, the world just went silent. I saw the outside of my backyard through different eyes. It was late morning, and the air was crisp (a miracle for Arizona). Birds sang familiar songs, and my parents looked to me as though they were shining. Then the water came as I was gently pushed downward into it, and it felt cool but not cold; I felt more refreshed than I had ever felt, more at rest than any amount of sleep could make me.
Thus, "September Morn" rang in my head. It has nothing to do with baptism or the like, but a lot to do with love. And I believe that God's love was what I was feeling that morning.
It's a song about coming home.

Sorry for the long story :-) Sharing music today was a beautiful idea, Davina.

Here's "September Morn:"

Laura said...

What a lovely tribute you've written to you dad. Thanks for making me cry... again. ;)

I am extremely moved by music as well. I've been brought to tears while singing songs, most memorably this one by John Rutter. (Lux Aeterna: Let eternal light shine upon them, O Lord, with Thy saints for ever, for art merciful. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may light eternal shine on them.)

John Rutter Requiem: Lux Aeterna

I always have a song running through my head... like a soundtrack for my life. It's interesting how whatever song is "playing" affects my interactions with everyone around me. This week the song has been "Walk On" by U2 (big surprise!)

U2: Walk On

My dad played a lot of Beach Boys when I was a kid, probably because it defined his generation. That, and he was an OC surfer boy. ;) I remember he would make me cassette recordings from the LP's and I'd put them on my walkman and turn it up LOUD. There was something otherworldly about having that much sound reverberating inside my head... that experience is impossible to duplicate.

Here's one of my favorite Beach Boys, reminds me of being about 15. Enjoy.

The Beach Boys: In My Room

D.L. White said...

@Jessica(a.k.a. WriterGirl) - Thank you for sharing your memory - one of the most special memories any Christian has, that moment of baptism. How wonderful that a song that was special to you, and connected to your dad, tied into that moment. You made me cry, it was so sweet! I went to You Tube and listened to it and it's a very sweet song. I like it! :)

@Laura - Love your selections! I absolutely LOVE high church music (i.e. the much older, classical hymns with music written by Bach, etc. as well as formal classical pieces like this). It affects me in a way that no other worship music can. That selection you linked to was, in a word, breathtaking.

And of course, you can't go wrong with U2 or the Beach Boys! :) I love the guitar in that U2 song! (My favorite Beach Boys tune is "Wouldn't It Be Nice").


Laura said...

Have you ever heard the entire Requiem by John Rutter? It is an amazingly beautiful journey through prayer for deceased loved ones, and to try to sing by the end of the 7 songs in the piece was almost impossible.

I've got the cd if you'd ever like to give it a listen. :)

D.L. White said...

@Laura - I'd love to listen to it! The only Requiem I know of is the one by Mozart (a favorite of Shawn and I). We saw a performance of it here by the Phoenix Boys Choir using authentic voices to what would have been used in Mozart's time. When the first notes hit me, I got goosebumps then started crying. How amazing and powerful music is... What a wonderful gift from God.

Anonymous said...

Taylor S. here.

I don't know how many know this, but I play piano, and have played it for over two years. That's not very long, but I already love to find refuge in my music. I hardly ever play sheet music; almost 100% of the time I play improvisational jazz and blues. Some of the happiest times of my life have been playing the 12 bar blues with my piano teacher on the drums.

Playing music allows me to escape from the everything and momentarily forget about the world around me. It is a great stress-reliever, helps me keep my perspective, and reminds me of the world's beauty.

I recently reacquired my love of classical music. As a young child I enjoyed listening to classical music, but up until a few months ago I had lost my connection. I took a class in school called "Music Humanities". It was a boring class, but it reconnected me with classical music. One of my favorite pieces is the 4th movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. I love the way chaos turns into perfect harmony. Another of my favorites is Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D. Similarly the way the music changes from slow and somber to happy and light gives me a thrill.

Soon after the class began my Music teacher noticed that my music had overtones of popular classical songs. I had told him about the class, but not about the music I listened to while in the class. He had no idea that I recently fallen in love with classical music again (I told him later that lesson). It still amazes me how much the music I listen to shows in the music I play.

Ever since then I noticed that music colored my music in ways I had never imagined. The whole tone of my music changed dramatically. I began to experiment with my scales, combining them in ways I hadn't thought of before. I had, essentially, relaxed into my music. I now spend more time improvising than memorizing scales.

That was a little bit long, but I love music, so I hope my rambling will be excused.

Pachelbel's Canon in D (for some reason the picture is of Mozart)

Beethoven's Symphony No 9 Op 125 4th movement (best I could find)

D.L. White said...

@Taylor - I didn't know you played piano! Please let us know when your next recital is! Shawn and I would love to attend (unless that whould make you too nervous!)

Thanks for sharing how music has touched your life, and so accurately explaining how it is a fluid thing, that in turn influences your own creations. I love it!

Shawn and I had almost exclusively classical music played at our wedding, and Pachelbel's Canon in D was one of the selections. It's gorgeous! :)

chandy said...

(Davina, You should tell Shawn that our entire wedding ceremony featured Beatles' music. Joel and I strolled hand-in-hand during our recessional to When I'm 64)

Can you just imagine the concerts your dad has seen in the last 11 years? Wow, I bet the music is awesome there!

I remember watching the old Statler Brothers show and the Grand Ole Opry with my dad. I know more about classic country music than most people my age!

Daddy Sang Bass

My mom is and was a huge Carpenters fan. We'd sing along with Karen into the wee hours of the morning, cleaning house or baking cookies.

Top of the World

Writergirl316 said...

@ Taylor- I didn't know that the class influenced you that much. I loved reading about how music is an escape for you. I think escapes like that are necessary to life, and it makes sense that yours is music.
Both of those pieces I hadn't heard very much of before you showed them to me. Not surprisingly, they are two of my favorites now too. I admit that I didn't know barely anything about classical music (except that I like it) before I met you. Thank you for that :-)

D.L. White said...

Hello all - I just have to tell you all that I'm LOVING this conversation and LOVING the exposure to all the other types of music. Thanks again for posting!

@Chandra - Shawn will think you're super-cool when he reads that! ;)

Wasn't the classical country music sooooo much better than what passes for country/pop these days? My dad wasn't too much into it as much as he was pop/rock, so I didn't get as much exposure to it, but when he listened to it, I enjoyed it. Either way, you can't go wrong with Johnny Cash!

The Carpenters had some of the most beautiful arrangements in their songs. Thanks again for posting the links. :)

Here's another one to keep the discussion going. When I was in college, you couldn't go a whole day without hearing "Ten" by Pearl Jam being blasted from someone's dorm window. That album was EVERYWHERE! Here's my favorite song from the album:

Here's the song that everyone remembers:

And here's a song that Shawn's band used to cover, with Shawn singing lead. I thought they rocked it alot better than Pearl Jam, but of course, I'm very biased! Whenever I hear it, I'm instantly transported back to their rehearsal room, sitting on the floor, looking up from my homework to watch them rock this slow burn. Good times.
Yellow Ledbetter

hyacinthinemoon said...

Davina, Thanks for sharing your memories with us. It reminded me I had this similarity with you:

One of the first things I remember about music and my dad was he would put those big huge head phones on my head and play Peter, Paul and Mary's "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "This Land Is Your Land" and other American folk tunes. Those head phones were so heavy, but they really did trasport you away.

I also spent hours listening to Disney soundtrack records, looking at the record covers: Mary Poppins, The Fox and Hound, The Haunted House (yes there was a soundtrack to it...and I wish I still had it).

D.L. White said...

@ Kat - Oh, Puff the Magic Dragon... I haven't thought about that song in years! I loved it as a kid.

Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary

And seriously... I shed a tear over your Haunted House album... how sad that you still don't have it. Not only would it be awesome to have because of our love for that house, but I'm sure it's a valuable Disney collectible now.

D.L. White said...

Okay... this is your fault, Kat. I have this song stuck in my head now. I'm sure it was on your Disney record...

Grim Grinning Ghosts