My parents were were two entirely different people. Mom is very involved in the church; dad went (sitting in a pew in the balcony) and bolted as soon as the service was over. Mom likes the theater, symphony and ballet; dad liked sports and TV. Mom is a disorganized Type-A; dad was an organized list person. But despite all their differences, they both loved music. Dad liked big band, swing and jazz; mom likes classical, some pop and gospel. And if it weren’t for their two entirely different tastes, I would never have learned to love so many different music genres. I told my story about the music I learned from by dad last week….now it’s time to talk about the music I learned from my mom.
I was raised Presbyterian – also known as the “frozen chosen” due to the reserved and traditional core values, beliefs, and approach to God and faith. Regardless of the fact that I frequently found myself nodding off because the sermons were so dry and inapplicable to normal life, there was a rich history of classical music. We performed the Easter portion of the Messiah, but the first time I heard the “Hallelujah” chorus was at home…mom was playing the entire Messiah on the stereo.
Listen to Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus here: 2-15 Handel_ Messiah, HWV 56 – Hallelujah Chorus
In addition to the religious classical music I heard growing up, the secular classics were wide and varied. Pieces from the Renaissance, Baroque (Bach and Handel), Classical (Mozart, Beethoven), and Romantic (Chopin, Tchaikovsky) periods wafted through the house at one time or another. The first time I heard the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” I was determined to play it. It is etherial, haunting, and still one of my most favorite pieces of music to hear and play.
Listen to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” here: 01 Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, Op. 27 No. 2 _Moonlight__ I. Adagio sostenuto
Besides the symphony, mom was the person who took me to all the ballets. I loved them then and love them still. We would go for nights on end and I would be be transfixed by the stories, the costumes and the music that swept me away into a fantasy I was always sorry to see end. Although my favorite ballet is Giselle, my first introduction to classical ballet was the story and music from The Nutcracker as I listened to the music with mom explaining the story. It is the first bar or two of the Overture that evokes the excitement I felt as a child and the holiday memories surrounding The Nutcracker.
Listen to The Nutcracker, “Overture” here: 1-01 Tchaikovsky_ The Nutcracker, Op. 71 – Overture
Although I heard a lot of classical music both religious and secular, I also heard a lot of gospel. I love gospel. (My husband knows that when I die, I’m expecting a southern Baptist gospel choir at my funeral. Really.) I heard Andre Crouch, Albertina Walker, The 5 Blind Boys of Alabama, Aretha Franklin, and The Queen of Gospel – Mahalia Jackson.
Mahalia was the first gospel singer I heard as a child and I loved her. To this day I can’t think of Christmas without Mahalia’s “Silent NIght” or “The Lord’s Prayer,” but “Lord Don’t Move the Mountain” combines a gospel/spiritual and blues sound that raises goosebumps. (FYI – the song below takes a few seconds to start…)
Listen to Mahalia Jackson’s “Lord Don’t Move That Mountian” here: Mahalia Jackson – Lord Don’t Move The Mountain
Outside of her classical and gospel tastes, I’ll never forget the day I came home from school – I was 11 or 12 – to hear a my mom playing a song on the stereo that just made me feel all kinds of icky. Mostly because the reason was I was 11 or 12, and the song was a love song. A pop love song. And she played it over and over and over and over.
Hearing that pop song today, it has stood the test of time: it is poetry at its finest, sung with a hauntingly smooth and expressive voice that could only be Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” At this particular juncture in my life, it no longer prompts an icky feeling. Rather, I appreciate it for a depiction of a love that is enveloping and all important.
Listen to Roberta Flack’s , “The First Time Ever I saw Your Face” here: 04 The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
I could never have learned to love so many different genres of music without the sounds I heard growing up. My mother’s taste in music is vastly different than my dad’s was, but I am greatly thankful for the diversity. Music has been a friend, entertainment, a way closer to God, and an expression of thoughts and feelings I couldn’t put words to. From my dad I learned jazz, big band, swing. On the flip side, I found classical, gospel and pop thanks to my mom. I will never be able to say thank you enough.
All music featured here is available from iTunes for download by clicking the links below:
- Handel, “Hallelujah” Chorus
- Beethoven, “Moonlight Sonata” Adagio
- Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker, “Overture”
- Mahalia Jackson, “Lord Don’t Move That Mountian”
- Roberta Flack, “The First Time Ever I saw Your Face”