I was watching a performance of Tosca on TV this afternoon and wishing I understood opera better…or classical music…or any form, really.
We didn’t own a record player, so growing up we were dependent on the sparse offerings on our radio, which didn’t work half the time. We heard pop music once a week, broadcast from Radio Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and I think there was a Sunday morning show called the Binaca Hit Parade (sponsored by the toothpaste, of course). I had a couple of friends who owned LPs, which we wore out, stopping and starting to copy the lyrics! Not much else. Mostly British groups and a few Americans (obviously Elvis and, for some strange reason, a country and western balladeer named Jim Reeves whose swooning love songs were wildly popular in Bombay!).
We had an old piano at home but not the money for lessons. My brother drove us crazy scratching his way through a violin primer, only to give it up pretty soon, thankfully! It was only when I left home and lived in the Middle East that I bought a cassette player–one of those Japanese things (Sharp, I think) with small detachable speakers. I was so proud of it. I even had a Walkman at one point, but I never really got used to listening to songs on the go, not having had music at my disposal at home. Perhaps that’s why you will not find me wandering around listening to an iPod, even though I have one. Walking is for thinking (it’s what happens when you grow up in a bustling city) and observing people. But I do listen to music when I’m driving. Keeps me from yelling at recalcitrant drivers in other lanes! I share my son’s Spotify account but most of the time I forget I have it! We once estimated that he has about 30,000 songs on various and sundry devices (not counting Spotify!)
Now, we sang all the time–folk songs and party songs, Irish ballads, and bawdy rugby songs–every family birthday party (we were a huge family of cousins, uncles, and aunts) had a sing-song after dinner. At home my mum and aunts would write down in shorthand the lyrics of songs from the radio…and we’d wait for the next week to fill the gaps.
So although I lack the easy familiarity with popular music that most of my contemporaries have, my head is filled with snatches of melodies.
I love music. It makes sense of the world–it reorganizes the universe in comprehensible terms and transmutes the best and worst of our emotions in ways that permit us to celebrate our humanity. Beethoven’s Appassionata sucks the uneasy turmoil from our mortal coil and elevates the spirit above the trash of our daily lives. Freddie’s rhapsody reaches deep into my Bohemian soul and makes it one with the universe!
Perhaps that is why even people like me who didn’t have easy access to records or cassettes are always looking for music wherever we can find it. We listen to the wind and rain, to birdsong and the hum of traffic. We love the rhythm of language, the sound of words, and the silence between. It’s why I love Shakespeare and Chekhov and Pinter and August Wilson and Soyinka. And Mishima. They are musicians as well as poets and playwrights.
Leave a Reply