Memories of Music and Place

“When I hear chamber music, I think of dinosaurs,” I announced recently at a gathering of family and friends.

“Oh, yeah,” my sister Chris replied as everyone else blinked in amazement, “although the dioramas were my favorite.”

The year I was seven and Chris was five, our family started going to the Los Angeles Natural History Museum about once a month. Our Dad had made a connection with someone who broadcast a Sunday afternoon chamber music program and allowed him to sit in the control room and record the live program on KUSC, which broadcast from the museum. According to their website, the classical public broadcasting station must have recently launched about the time we started our visits.

While our Dad was recording, our Mom took Chris and me to look at the exhibits. The massive skeleton of a dinosaur greeted us as we entered the museum – and is still there today,

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Dinosaur skeleton in entrance

as are the same dioramas.

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Diorama – African animals

When we returned home, Dad would play the music he recorded. According to a list of concerts during that time that the station recently provided, I’m sure that one of the programs he recorded was William Vandenberg, cello, and Yalta Menuhin, piano, in recital.

I began thinking of my associations of music and place during a recent visit with my son BJ.  His iPod cycled to an album of French café songs. I commented that I had become enchanted with this music while driving across the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, Canada one summer and was delighted to find a station that played that style of music.

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Bonaventure Island – Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec

Recently, when I had my sister, Chris, listen to some of the music, I was chagrined to discover that one of the instruments was the accordion.  I guess I have to add another style of accordion music that I like.

Every Christmas as a child our parents would play a 78 rpm record of the Nutcracker Suite. I always loved the music and the accompanying story. Over the years I have seen many Nutcracker Ballet performances; however, the most memorable has to be the time I took six-year old BJ to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company performance at the Seattle Opera House in Seattle Center.

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Seattle Opera House – image from post card

I had purchased seats on the aisle in one of the first few rows so he could have a good view of the dancers. It was also the first time that I had attended a ballet in that type of venue.

I recently asked him if he remembered the performance.

“Wow, that was a long time ago,” he replied. “I remember the thrill of being so close I could see the musicians in the orchestra – and that it was my first live performance.”

When I hear Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker during the holidays, I can picture the giant mice, and the children running out from under the huge hoop skirts of Mother Ginger.

Growing up, the music I was surrounded with was fairly limited to classical music and accordion tunes. While our Dad always prided himself on being on the cutting edge of audio-visual equipment, we never owned a record player that played 45 rpm records – even with an adapter.  Listening to rock ‘n roll music, which took off when I was in junior high, only happened in venues away from home – with one exception: Ed Sullivan.  That television show was on at our house every Sunday evening.  I had my first opportunity to see Elvis Presley when he appeared on the show in September, 1956.

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Ed Sullivan and Elvis Presley during rehearsal – photo from Wikipedia Commons

During the summer of 1955, our family camped at Bass Lake just south of Yosemite.

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Mom washing dishes at our Bass Lake campsite

Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets had risen to the top of the charts a few months earlier and the scenic boat touring around the lake blared this hit single constantly.  As a teenager, I loved it, but it drove my parents crazy.

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Bass Lake Queen – photo from park website

I was still living at home in 1964 when the Beatles made their debut on the Ed Sullivan show – an event that many remember in the same way they know where they were when President John F. Kennedy was shot.

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Ed Sullivan with The Beatles – photo from Wikipedia commons

It was about this time that my fiancé introduced me to Dixieland Jazz, his favorite type of music – and I was surprised at how much I liked the Dixieland beat.  The first time I heard Louis Armstrong belt out When the Saints Go Marching In on his trumpet, I was hooked. In 1977 I visited New Orleans for a conference and several of us spent an evening at Preservation Hall.

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New Orleans – Preservation Hall – photo from Wikipedia commons

To this day, I still remember the thrill of being packed into the rickety venue that felt like a fire trap and listening to New Orleans jazz well into the night. After a while, the musicians had sweat dripping off their brows and I wondered how some of the performers, who looked to be in their 70’s and 80’s had the stamina to play the music with their gnarled fingers with such gusto – for such a long time.

When I moved to Albuquerque in the mid-1990’s, I was able to have my love of Dixieland jazz revived listening to performances given by Russ Jolly and fellow musicians,

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Russ Jolly Dixieland performance at Covenant Presbyterian Church

including three of his sons – Jay on base, Todd on drums and Jeff on guitar. One of my favorites in his repertoire was Muskrat Ramble.

While I really like traditional Chinese instrumental and vocal music, I don’t have any vivid memories from my nine months attending college in Hong Kong that I associate with this music. It would not have been music played by my fellow students in the early 1960’s.

After finishing my first Thanksgiving dinner in Albuquerque, family friend Tom Hussey looked me in the eye and asked, “So when are you going to join the choir?”

“When I get my life in order,” I replied.

“Then you’ll never join,” he stated flatly.

He was right and the following week I timidly attended my first choir practice at Covenant Presbyterian Church. I have been forever grateful for Tom’s straight talk. Joining the choir was one of the best things I have done for myself. Choir director, Jeff Jolly, has the ability to accept and work with all who want to sing. He is also a gifted composer and it has been such a joy to perform not only classical anthems, but also spiritual music in a wide variety of styles and beats.

A few months later, Jeff had us start learning a piece he had written, Hymn of the Holy Spirit, for the upcoming General Assembly gathering of Presbyterian leaders from across the country that was going to be held in Albuquerque. While the choir sings it every spring on Pentecost and I always enjoy it, I will always remember the thrill of performing it, in the company of all of the other Presbyterian Church choirs, 100 + strong from central and northern New Mexico, accompanied by an orchestra, at the closing worship service held at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Every time we sing “Your presence like the wind, blows where it will, and where you linger, Your voice is still…” I think about that performance in 1996.

For the last 20+ years, Christmas Eve for me is all about singing at the two Christmas Eve church services. While the musical selections have changed from time to time, the one piece that remains constant is Jeff Jolly’s arrangement of O Holy Night.

And, it wouldn’t be Easter without singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

When my sister, Chris, and her husband Bill and I traveled to Scotland in 2000, we had several opportunities to hear bagpipe music, including this man propped up against the outside wall of Edinburgh Castle.

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Piper – Edinburgh, Scotland

I expected there would be opportunities to hear Celtic music or attend a ceilidh. While staying in Stirling, we noticed a sign posted outside of the visitor information center announcing a ceilidh at the Church of the Holy Rude. We jumped at the opportunity – and arrived early.

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Church of the Holy Rude – Stirling, Scotlnd

While waiting for the performance to start, we wandered around the historic church and discovered it was where James VI, the infant son of Mary Queen of Scots, was crowned King of Scots !

We were the only tourists who attended the musical program and Chris remembers them being so appreciative of our interest.

In 2003 I traveled through Nova Scotia and spent several days on Cape Breton Island, where I was able to be immersed in Celtic fiddling music. I attended a ceilidh every evening in each local community where I stayed, including an intimate, folksy gathering in Baddeck.

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Ceilidh – Baddeck, Cape Breton Island – photo from Baddeck Tourism

After my tour of Cape Breton, I stayed with my friends Val and Wally at their summer cottage on Prince Edward Island.

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Wally and Val Ford – Prince Edward island

During that visit and again when I traveled to “the island” three years later, we enjoyed Celtic fiddling.

As I drove through Cape Breton Island one day the radio played music from a well-known Cape Breton soloist, Rita MacNeil, and I became enamored with the rich and haunting melodies she sang.

Today when I listen to one of my CD’s of Celtic music from those locations or the melodies of Rita MacNeill – particularly the song ‘She’s Called Nova Scotia’, I picture the rugged picturesque landscapes of Cape Breton

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Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia – photo Cape Breton Tourism

and Prince Edward Island.

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Prince Edward Island coastline

In junior high and high school I played the cello. While I sold my cello to buy a typewriter for college, I continued to enjoy cello music and to this day always watch the cellists when attending a symphony concert. In the late 1980’s I first heard the liquid sounds of YoYo Ma when he performed on television. While he has become very innovative with the cello, I still prefer to listen to him playing more traditional pieces. In 2005 he appeared in concert at Albuquerque’s Popejoy Hall. It was thrilling to be able to watch him perform live – even from the balcony!

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Album cover of CD purchased at concert

During the summer of 1998, I took my daughter, Breanne to San Francisco to celebrate her high school graduation. One afternoon as we were enjoying an afternoon snack in Ghirardelli Square, a pair of musicians caught my attention as they played across the square. They were from Peru – one playing a guitar and the other a unique flute, called a pan flute that is made up of a series of graduated bamboo tubes.

As my friend Sue and I wandered around Aguas Caliente nestled in the valley below Machu Picchu, the sounds of Andean flute music floated around us – and my mind immediately went back to that sunny afternoon in Ghirardelli Square. However, now when I play my Fusion Andina CD that I purchased in San Francisco, I also have a mental picture of the Peruvian village high in the Andes of Peru.

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Aguas Caliente, Peru

Shortly after moving to Albuquerque, the Sandia High School band, where my youngest son Jay played clarinet, traveled to Colorado to perform. I drove my own car to be a quasi-chaperone at the hotel. During the trip we had the opportunity to visit the Manitou Cliff Dwellings outside of Colorado Springs. As I entered the gift shop, I heard the haunting tones of a Native American flute and purchased a R. Carlos Nakai CD. I have heard his music many times since, but will always remember being entranced at the cliff dwellings.

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CD purchased at Manitou Cliff Dwellings

Shortly after telling my son BJ that I would be visiting Cuba, he sent me a CD for my birthday featuring the Afro Cuban All Stars. While I really liked the beat, it wasn’t until I actually visited Cuba and enjoyed Cuban bands accompanying almost every meal, that I could associate the music with the place.  Now, when I slide the CD into the slot in my car and I hear the smooth melodies of the trombone and stringed bass, I see the outdoor cafes I visited in Cuba.

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Musicians – Las Terrazas, Cuba

From dinosaurs to exotic locations around the globe, I have so many wonderful musical memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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