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Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Past, Present and Power of Music

There's a family story about my mom and my aunt taking Grandma to see West Side Story when it came out in theaters. Grandma wasn't familiar with musicals, but she was a bit of a musician herself. Undoubtedly, it would be a treat. Some of you might recall that scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts sees an opera for the first time. Richard Gere says, "People's reaction to opera is very dramatic; they either love it or hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don't, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul." The scene ends with Julia Roberts crying, absorbed in the music of the opera. Near the end of West Side Story, as my mother and aunt were crying their eyes out, and the notes of There's a Place for Us began, my grandmother turned in her seat and said, "Oh shit. They're gonna sing again."

I love that story. It's so indicative of my grandma, whom I adored. But I also love it because I believe in many ways my mother was much like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. She hadn't been exposed to operas or musicals growing up, but when she did, it really became a part of her soul.

Believe it or not, growing up in Kirkman didn't allow many opportunities to experience fine culture. (We didn't even have MTV since cable hadn't come through yet.) But I was lucky. I had a mother who had sense of its importance, and as it turned out, a piano teacher who would decide to make Kirkman her residence. Mrs. Laporte would end up being an extraordinary influence in my life.

Not only did I learn scales and the importance of practice, but I learned the discipline of Bach and the vastness of Mozart. I learned Chopin was pronounced show-PAN', not choppin. I learned classical music was not just the background for cartoons, but a genre of complex and elevated emotion. I also came to understand how classical music was the origins for all the pop songs I had loved and still love.

The other day, on my way to work, XM's Symphony Hall featured the music of West Side Story. I laughed out loud, thinking about my grandma's experience with the musical. Then I listened. My heart became full, not only from the brilliance of the Leonard Bernstein, but from the gratitude I felt for my exposure to the fine arts.

I wanted to ensure my kids were given the opportunity to appreciate the arts, as I did. We've taken them to the Orpheum aplenty. Admittedly, the impact to Alex and Cole were decisively different. Before Alex left for college, she listened to The Nutcracker every night as she fell asleep. She once was appalled when she learned how many of my coworkers had never been to a musical. She now writes for the art desk for the Daily Iowan. Cole, on the other hand, still remembers having to sit through the second half of Fiddler on the Roof. Exposing Cole hasn't been all in vain though. I have caught him falling to sleep to some beautiful, unfamiliar classical music. It happened to be a soundtrack for Assassin's Creed. Nonetheless, beautiful. I think there's hope for him yet.

Music has the distinct quality of affecting people in their own unique way. Interestingly enough, a person's response to music, any kind of music (pop, classical, or country) also has the distinct quality of bringing them close to others who share the same taste. I feel very blessed to have a love of music that spans high-brow to grass-roots. It gives me a connection to others. Lots of others.

Tony and Maria. "Tonight. Tonight. It all begins..."