From ragtime to Rachmaninoff, song offers comfort, our experiences linked to musical memories
While its presence can be sporadic or ubiquitous, music accompanies all of us on our life’s journey. Our encounters with music, whether intentional or inadvertent, influence our lives in ways that are sometimes difficult to quantify and appreciate. Yet we know that when we embrace a piece of music, it gains a unique hold on our imagination.
With that in mind, I’d like you to consider the following questions before reading on:
1. Recall one of your most vivid musical memories. What do you see and hear?
2. What is one piece of music you wouldn’t want to live without―—and why?
3. Given what you already know and enjoy, what are you still looking forward to exploring and discovering about music?
Perhaps your answers sprang quickly or required a lot of thought, but hopefully this little exercise stimulated your mind’s ear and you’ll continue to contemplate your answers and what they reveal about your past, present and potential future musical experiences.
When considering the first question, there’s no denying that music plays a crucial role when it inhabits our memories, and being able to replay those musical memories helps to keep them alive. For me, this question brings two musical images immediately to mind. The first is my daughter standing alone onstage seven years ago as young Cosette in Les Miserables. Broom in hand and dressed in rags, she’s singing Castle on a Cloud. The show played for a month to sold-out crowds and was the ultimate proud-parent experience. Seeing my daughter in character on stage also made me far more susceptible to the searing musical melodramatics of Les Mis than I might otherwise have been. I doubt if I’ll ever again experience that same level of catharsis during a performance.
The second image, entirely different yet just as potent, is my grandmother sitting at the piano playing her rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. On New Year’s Eve we would gather around to hear her improvise her favorite standards, and Stardust was her signature tune. Twenty-five years later, my grandmother long gone, I can still hear the melody as it emerges from her fingers, gilded by improvised arpeggios cascading effortlessly up and down the keyboard. For me, this will always be the definitive version of Stardust, even if its comforting strains exist only inside my head.
Moving on reluctantly (I want to stay with those memories a little longer), and to answer question number 2, a piece I wouldn’t want to live without would be Bach’s Prelude in C Major (the famous one Gounod “enhanced” by adding a melody set to the text of Ave Maria). As a piano instructor, I find it to be the ideal piece to share with my students. There’s something profoundly beautiful behind the apparent simplicity of its arpeggiated chords. It’s music of unparalleled serenity to revisit again and again over the course of a lifetime.
If there is already music we can’t imagine living without, question number 3 reinforces music’s promise as a continuous and inexhaustible resource to further inspire our open ears and inquisitive minds. This question also invites us to explore some of the issues surrounding music and the various roles it plays, not only in individual lives, but also here in our local community and in society at large. With that in mind, please let me know what you’d like to see addressed and discussed here in future columns.
In the meantime, I hope you will continue to think about how music has enriched your life and the lives of your loved ones, and consider what steps to take to keep the musical
experiences flowing. Whether we seek music out or happen upon it serendipitously, a new song or piece always awaits our discovery, and future memories are poised for creation.
Pianist, instructor and musicologist Erik Entwistle received an undergraduate degree in music from Dartmouth College. He earned a post-graduate degree in piano performance at Washington University in St. Louis. He earned a doctorate in musicology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He teaches on Sanibel, and can be reached at toti.com/ contactus.
OUR ENCOUNTERS WITH MUSIC, WHETHER INTENTIONAL OR INADVERTENT, INFLUENCE OUR LIVES IN WAYS THAT ARE SOMETIMES DIFFICULT TO QUANTIFY AND APPRECIATE.