Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Parent Influence

There have been a couple kind of creepy coincidences in my life where my love of music and my parents are concerned. OK, more than a couple, but today I'll only talk about a couple. In my post about my Dad's tastes in music, I was hinting that his influence may count for more than I care to admit. Here I am, a full-grown creature with kids of my own and I find myself looking at my tastes in music and thinking, how did I get this way? Did I choose to like what I like? Or was it chosen for me?

The answer is complex and I think it's complex for everyone. Even when tastes are a reaction against the tastes of parents, that in itself constitutes an influence that seems to compromise what we think of as free will. Would such folks have chosen their current path had our parents been more sympathetic?

In my case, my parents didn't always understand my tastes in music, but they were proud of me for having them. In some cases, like my ceaseless playing of Mussorgsky and Beethoven on the piano, my Dad was highly approving. Other loves, like the Beatles, he teasingly referred to as "monkey music"--it just sounded like noise to him.

More significantly, I don't recall my Mom ever saying a negative word about any music that I liked. I do remember her telling me that I couldn't make a living off only a few songs--which was her way of encouraging me to work harder at the things I loved.

In my 30s, long after my mother had died, there was a moment when I just wanted to write something that had a lot of joy in it. I had begun a new relationship and I wanted to celebrate it. The piece that came out was a crude, but fun little waltz that quoted the song "Buffalo Gals (Won't You Come Out Tonight)". I still like to play it once in a while--it's a bold, shouty sort of piano solo. I didn't give any thought at all to how I had come to know the song. I still don't really know.

On the phone with my Dad a week or so later, I happened to mention the Buffalo Gals Waltz and hummed the song and laughed about how much fun it was to play. He was quiet for a minute and then he said, "That song was on your mother's lips the night we met."

He had never told me that. Mom certainly never told me that.

A couple years later, I was again talking to my Dad about musical interests--these were rare conversations. Mostly we didn't talk, we just enjoyed each other's company. I told him about Charles Ives and his love of clashing sounds and how important that composer had been in my development and my understanding of contemporary music. And he said, grimly, "I know that guy." Umm .... What?

"I was stationed in Boston briefly," he told me, "and the orchestra would put on free concerts in the summer on the riverfront. Your mother used to drag me down to hear the music and one of the composers they played was Charles Ives. I didn't like it, but your mother was excited about it."

I can recall only one conversation that I had with my mother about music. She told me that the orchestra tuning up was her favorite part about going to the symphony. She loved the swirl of the random sounds, the scraps of melodies zooming past each other.

One conversation. So how is it that I am so much her?


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