Music And Me
If you play just about any of the standard radio library of Classical music for me, the odds are good that I'll recognize it. I may even be able to hum or whistle along with it, but chances are, I may not know the name of the piece or who wrote it.
The reason for the recognition is simple: When I was a little kid and all through my childhood — even into my college years — first my parents, and then I, just about always had the radio going as the background for whatever we were doing. At home or in the car, it was our constant companion. And, because we always lived in Los Angeles or the San Fernando Valley, the station that was playing was (until it 1989, when it was sold and changed to another format) KFAC, LA's home for Classical music.
The reason for me not knowing what I'm listening to is twofold. First, because Classical compositions usually run longer than other musical types, it's easier to miss the announcements, either before or after it's played. And second, while Classical music is, for me, easier to be drawn fully into than other kinds of music, it's also easier — when I just want a soothing background – to mentally "tune-out", announcements and all, leaving me with a pleasant feeling and the possible ability to recognize the piece if I hear it again, but no idea at all of what I've been listening to.
When I was a kid, it was usually Classical music, only. And, when I got into High School, it got even worse; I became a terrible music snob: While everybody else was listening to Doo-Wop and the new Rock 'n' Roll, I came around to the point where, even in Classical music, if it had been written later than 1759 (the year that George Frederick Handel died) it was too "modern", and all of the rich treasury of concert favorites (Everything from The Nutcracker Suite to the opera, Carmen, to the "Lone Ranger" theme — The William Tell Overture) were "War Horses", and far beneath my notice.
In short, I missed-out on most of the great music of every kind that was outside of the very narrow niche I had carved out for my musical taste.
That started to change, though, when two things happened: The first was back when I was twelve years old; heard really good sound (Bozak, McIntosh, a pipe organ with REALLY DEEP BASS! ) for the first time; became an instant Hi-Fi Crazy; and was willing to stretch my standards a little if the sound was good enough. The second was when I was about seventeen, and met Skip Weshner.
Skip (Theodore J. Weshner, Jr.), was — not just for me, but perhaps for all of us – even those who've never heard of him — one of the most important people in American music in the 1950s through 1970s. He started out as a Hi-Fi salesman for Asco Sound, in New York City; bought air time on WBAI FM to do his own show; brought together a group of sponsors for it from among the very best Hi-Fi industry companies at the time; and put together, from an almost impossibly broad knowledge of musical style and performance and an incredibly broad range of personal friends and acquaintances, what may have been the most eclectic music program ever.
On the same night he might have had the Mazowsze Choir of Poland, Mexican ranchera music, Irish folk songs, Big Band music and Schubert lieder. He gave Bob Dylan his first radio outing, back when he was still performing under his real name (Bob Zimmerman), and discovered or popularized Joan Baez, the Weavers, Hoyt Axton, Gordon Lightfoot, Van Dyke Parks, Randy Newman, and countless others. His program regularly featured live performances of music of every kind, from Flamenco to Israeli, to Russian, to Irish, to American folk songs, to Jazz, to Classical, to just about anything else you could possibly imagine. There's even good reason to believe that it was Skip's program, Accent On Sound, (which, by 1959, had outlets coast-to-coast, and had moved its home to KRHM FM in Los Angeles, where I met him) that was the original source for the folk music craze that eventually spread across the country and around the world.
With Skip and all the people that I met because of him to guide me, and with my ever-growing audiophilia to drive me on, my narrow vision of what kinds of music I would listen to quite literally exploded, and soon there no kind of music that I wouldn't seek out and enjoy.
Sometimes the lure was the music, itself (John Jacob Niles wrote utterly lovely songs, but should never have been allowed to perform them); sometimes it was the performance (Bernard Haitink's performance of the Shostakovich Symphony #15, Alfred Deller singing Purcell's Ode for Saint Cecilia's Day, or just about anything by pianist Radu Lupu or singer/mandolin player Ricky Skaggs); sometimes it was both (Leonard Cohen or Pink Floyd after the Umma Gumma album); sometimes it was just the glorious sound (the Mickey Hart Dafos album, for example, which wasn't much musically [IMHO] but was a genuine sonic spectacular); and sometimes it all came together (the Reference Recordings Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique [RR-11 or the Sheffield Lab Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet [LAB-8]), and the result was sheer ecstasy – regardless of the year it was written.
Now I listen to just about everything, and I'm still learning, but about all kinds of music. Except for Hip-Hop, there's just about nothing at all that I can't get into (and to tell the truth, there's even some of that that I'm starting to like), and, as long as it's well written, well-performed, well-recorded, or, hopefully, all of the above, I'll be a fan.
Much of the time, I probably still won't know what I'm listening to, but that won't stop me. I'll just sit back, close my eyes, and...