Three Songs Not At All Related to This Time of Year (but that you might like anyways)

There have been a lot of huge philosophical concepts resting heavily on my mind lately:  What it means to have choice, the responsibility to protect others from harm, the obligation to not place a stumbling block before the blind, the meaning of hope, the exhortation not to judge others until you are in their place, what it really means to help, when it’s right to voice concern, when it’s not right to voice concern.

So, because my head needs a little respite from all this, I’m going to share with you some of my absolutely favorite music.  It’s been a long time since I did a music post (okay, October, but it feels like longer), and since I don’t have the head space to do much else, here are some songs and some anecdotes from my musical history.  

You’re Not Ready For This One

When I was but a wee lass (ten years old), I started playing the clarinet.  When I was about twelve or thirteen, I started taking private lessons.  One thing I kept asking my teacher to play was the Mozart clarinet concerto, which is possibly the most sublime piece written for clarinet.  His response was that I wasn’t ready yet.  Of course, being young, I chafed at this, purchased a copy of the music anyways and started working on it on my own.  When I informed my teacher that I could “play” it, he responded,

“Yes, the notes are not hard.  But you are not mature enough to play the music of it.”


Years later, when I would study the piece in college, I came to appreciate what he had been trying to tell me.

And this concept certainly crosses over into the realm of parenting, and even of just life in general.  There are times when our kids (or ourselves) think we’re ready for some experience, but we’re not quite there yet.  But we can’t see it until later.  ‘Cause that’s how it is sometimes.

I can’t seem to not get philosophical.  Ever.  Anyways, here’s the second movement of Mozart’s clarinet concerto.  It’s a slow movement, sandwiched between two fast movements, which is traditional in concertos from this time period (it was written in 1791, the last year of Mozart’s life).

Bombasticness at Band Camp!

I went to band camp.  Somewhat disconcerting is the fact that I can’t remember if I went to band camp only in Iowa City, IA (Go Hawkeyes!), or also in Lawrence, KS.  One would think that would be something easily recalled, but, no, it’s not.  I even called my dad to see if he knew, but we decided that we kind of think it was only Iowa City, but, gosh, it was almost twenty years ago, so we’ll just leave it at that. UPDATE:  My friend and fellow-bandcamp goer, Lisa, confirmed that we were indeed at KU.  It is not a figment of my imagination.  Phew!

What I *do* remember is playing the finale to Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony.  Mainly because it started with a cascade of notes that create a sweeping, exciting, spectacular effect.  Right now, thinking of the opening in my head, I hear this:  BAAAAAAAAAAH BAAAAAAAAAAH BAAH badeldadeldadeldadel dadeldadeldadeldadel Dadeldadel Dadeldadel Dadeldadel Da Da DAH DOP DOP.

There is a reason people make fun of band nerds.  We go around singing stuff like that as if it’s completely normal.

The rest of the movement is full of the typical Tchaikovsky passing a musical theme around the different instruments.  It’s a lot of fun, this movement.  For the history buffs out there (anyone?  anyone?), this was written around 1877-8.   It’s in four movements, which is typical of the time.  It incorporates a Russian folk tune, “In the Field Stood a Birch Tree.”  That’s the one that sound like this: Da da da da Daaa Dada Daaaa Daaaa.  Or this.

I used this article from Wikipedia for some of that information

Don’t Quit Those Piano Lessons Just Yet

Preceding my clarinet lessons were my piano lessons, which I started at seven.  Like so many piano students, I never practiced.  I would put it off, and put it off until maybe a day before the lesson (or, worst case, a couple hours before the lesson!!).  This is the problem with having just enough talent to be able to wing it during a lesson and do a somewhat decent job.  Not that I ever fooled my piano teacher for a minute. Despite the talking-to my piano teacher gave me about wasting my parent’s  money with my lack of practicing, I continued with the lesson.  I should say, my parents graciously allowed me to continue lessons despite my lack of motivation.

And thank heavens for that!

When I was a sophomore in college, I was exposed to Beethoven’s Late Piano Sonatas.  These are the sonatas that he wrote mainly while deaf.  Yes, he couldn’t hear and still was able to write amazingly complex and profound music.  Some musicians even make a decent argument that his late sonatas are even better than his earlier works.  They are certainly far more innovative and contemplative than their predecessors.

So, I was taking Form and Analysis and we studied Sonata No. 30, in E Major.  I was just floored by this piece.  Even though I hadn’t seriously played piano for at least a few years (and, one might say, ever, considering the lack of practicing), I got a book of Beethoven Sonatas and started working on this piece.  I must have practiced it every day for at least six months, and after a piano major heard me practicing it, and made some comment about there was no way I could be playing that, I realized that I actually had some chops on piano, if I applied myself.

Look at that.  Practicing really does work.

I went on to restart piano lessons and have enjoyed playing some serious piano music.  There’s an incredible feeling to taking a challenging piece, working on it over a period of time, and seeing the result slowly come into focus.  This is an experience that I think young people today are sorely missing.  Yes, I have officially turned into a stodgy old lady, referring to the wayward ways of the “youth of today.”  But seriously, many piano students I’ve had want to know when they can start playing things like Fur Elise.  The real answer?  Maybe five years.  But if I told them that, I’m afraid they might give up.  Also, I can usually find an easy version that will satisfy their desire somewhat.  It’s a balance, teaching.

Now for the Beethoven.  Remember, he couldn’t hear when he wrote this.  Not a thing.

What are your favorites?

I was going to post a few more songs, but I’m already feeling a little worn out from reaching into the cobwebs of my memory.  I hope you enjoyed these, and if you have any favorite songs that you would like to share, please leave a comment about your musical memories (and maybe even a link to a song or two – it doesn’t have to be classical music, either).

26 thoughts on “Three Songs Not At All Related to This Time of Year (but that you might like anyways)

  1. I relate to all of this. Having spent hours and hours practicing piano as a child (I was not the kind who could wing it at the lesson without practicing at least 2 or maybe 3 nights before the lesson!) and more recently harp, I so appreciate the feeling you describe: the Jewish phrase of “yagat umatzat taamin” – “if someone says they worked hard and succeeded, believe him.”

    And as one piano professor in college said to me “hands alone!” Which obviously (maybe not?) applies to piano and harp rather than clarinet, but still I’m sure you as a clarinetist had to break down the practicing into little bits whether it was hands or measures or sections.

    As a child my favorite piece was “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin. (Became famous from the movie “The Sting”
    I learned a cool arrangement with my teacher who was excellent at jazz music and improvisation. (Too bad I didn’t master her overall amazing talent at jazz but I was able to master individual pieces she taught me).

    I laugh at how piano students want to play fur Elise right away. Ha. Then they get to the second and third parts. But I just teach them (as you point out) a simplified version of part 1. Which is really funny bec if they wait a few years they can really get the emotion and dynamics of even the first part. (Which takes sophistication).

    I laughed at your singing the rhythms of the clarinet. One of our sons played in the klezmer band of his school in elementary school so I can sort of relate to that.

    Okay I’m rambling. I played a few Beethoven sonatas in college. The C major one (not the sonata facile. Another one ). And Mozart and Haydn sonatas. The Haydn were more accessible. They were all so pretty. I got to the point where I appreciated when my professor would suggest a piece with less complex passages but equally gorgeous music. The trick was always in the expression. The biggest compliment I got from teachers was “bravo. Your music sings. ” That meant so much.

    Ahhh. So many memories. :).

    Love your music. Thanks for sharing in this post! I love the comparison to life experiences. Music and life and music and relationships. So similar.

    1. I forgot about “hands alone!” Oh yes, I have heard and said that many, many times. I definitely break things down into smaller chunks to work them out.

      Everyone loves Fur Elise. I honestly don’t understand why. It’s nice and all, but I don’t get why it’s always the first request!

      Thanks for sharing your memories! I enjoy your ramblings.

  2. oh my goodness, there’s so much! I would have to say that the work that made me fall in love with opera is Puccini’s La Boheme…one listen and I was hooked! Once i got my paws on an LP of it (with Renata Tebaldi and Jussi Bjoerling), it became my go-to in times of musical ‘need.’ And then there’s other vocal music that stirs my soul – all for soprano, of course – why stir my soul if i can’t sing it? LOL! (and pardon me if it’s not to MY G-d, but I just can’t help it….) the Glorias of Vivaldi and Poulenc, the Requiems of Verdi and Mozart, Strauss’ Four Last Songs, Berg’s Sieben Fruhe Lieder, ANY lieder of Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Brahms, Mozart…chansons of Faure, Duparc, Debussy, Chausson…I am much more of a ‘lyrical’ singer, but can’t LIVE without the musicians’ intellectual BLISS of Bach. Operas by Bellini, Rossini, Donizetti, PUCCINI, Verdi….and LOVE Britten opera too! I can’t recall it all, but there’s a smattering. Oh, and since ’tis the season, Britten’s Ceremony of Carols (Hashem help me!) was always a favorite of mine….”and sing that sweet Balulalow.”

    1. Can you believe that I’ve never listened to La Boheme? Isn’t that scandalous? I need to fix that.

      And I understand the vocal music and the requiems! I sang Mozart’s requiem back in high school – the Lacrymosa – ah!!

  3. I totally appreciate your comments about the need to practice, go slow, and not expect instant gratification. Slightly cranky old ladies of the world, unite!

  4. My mom had a crush on a classical musician and would sometimes take me to watch practice sessions, but I don’t remember any of that. My favorite pieces are ones I don’t even realize how much I love until they come on in, say, the grocery store. One just showed up in my feed via my just-younger sister: “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray. Just reading the words drift away transports me back to my mom’s many cars, crooning along without–for a moment–any other cares in the world.

    1. Those grocery store songs will get you! I heard Wind Beneath My Wings in Walgreens the other day and I unexpectedly choked up. I’m not familiar with “drift away,” but I’ll check it out now!

  5. I adore the Appassionata. Particularly this rendition – Alexei Sultanov at the Van Cliburn competition:

    My fondness stems partly from the fact that I remember this competition. It took place in my hometown, not long after I started learning Russian, and I was fascinated by the story of this kid from Tashkent taking Dallas by storm. Beyond that, though, I find this rendition very stirring. It’s so emphatic and exuberant. It’s not technically perfect. I’m hardly a professional, but I can hear a few notes that aren’t quite what they should be. But it makes me wish I’d been there, so that I could have the memory of standing up to whoop and cheer with the rest of the audience – particularly since Sultanov died at a young age, after a series of strokes that began while he was playing the Appassionata at a concert in Japan.

  6. I love when you talk about your music! My bigger two take piano. The oldest (9) has really taken to it. The 7 year old seems less enthusiastic. Anyway, I’m glad they’re getting the chance to see if they love it. They have to start somewhere. By the way, my grandfather was a really into playing the clarinet. I have fond memories. He played in groups in Rochester, NY as a hobby.

    1. It’s such a pleasure to write about; I really don’t do it enough. That’s so nice that your kids are taking piano! It’s great for their brains. And that’s so nice about your grandfather! I also love playing with volunteer groups. Such love for music there.

  7. I took piano lessons when I was a little kid- um, 7, 8?- and then again for a year when I was 12, more seriously. I obviously have very little knowledge left at this point. But one day when I’m old and retired I’d like to relearn.

    1. The knowledge is just buried in the back of your brain, behind all the “what to make for dinner” and “where are my keys” bits of life (that’s my official scientific opinion, haha). I hope that you’ll be able to pick it back up at a later time! I also want to resume lessons when life is a bit less, shall we say, hectic (though I had amy doubts it will truly ever wind down).

  8. Which pieces should I not post? Hmmm.. :-) Okay, I’ll post three pieces. For now.

    This really woke me up when I was a kid “hey, piano music is beautiful, especially when I try to play beautifully” :

    My favourite movement in a piece that’s – something like sacred to me. Genial, powerful composer, too.

    Another genial, powerful composer, bursting with creativity, makes me think a lot about music, life, the universe and all the rest: (Some people think this piece is some sort of joke. I don’t think so.)

    1. Hooray! Thanks for the links. I love the Schumann, and I still play from the Album for the Young when I want to relax. I haven’t thought of Monteverdi in years! Thanks for the reminder. And, oh my, 4’33” – yes, we certainly made many jokes about that piece in college, but I agree with you that it is more than that.

  9. I love classical – these are some of my favourites, some of which I listen to in my car with the radio blaringly loud : Smetana’s bartered bride (I’m something of a feminist so the name of this piece always makes me feel ‘grrrrrrr’;listen here: Then there’s Resphighi’s Fountains of Rome which is a good 15 mins long but it gets me home in a good mood after a stressful day at the office; and this one by Katherine Jenkins: just gets to me, I can listen to this one on repeat!

    1. I love blasting the classical music in the car. Haha. I was fortunate to play the Pines of Rome in college. What an experience. I’m not familiar with the Smetana or the Jenkins. Looking forward to listening!

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