Now before i really begin this post, i want everyone to know, i am not and have never considered myself a knowledgeable person concerning classical music.
i like a lot of it, have a whole bunch of records and CDs of it, but i am, at the heart of things, a good ole Tennessee small town boy, and i often wonder how i got so into music of all kinds, like a lot but master of none.
My first recollection of classical music, besides “Fantasia,” which i never really appreciated until i met Maureen, came from Uncle Pipey. James Orr, son of Rockwood’s (East Tennessee) Presbyterian minister, went to Cumberland University in Lebanon, received his engineering degree and the hand of another Cumberland student, Evelyn Prichard, mother’s oldest sister.
The Orr’s eventually ended up in White Oak and then Red Bank on the north side of Chattanooga. So as far back as i can remember, the Jewell’s of Lebanon would travel to Chattanooga for the weekend about every other month and the Orr’s would return the favor traveling to Lebanon, roughly on the alternate month.
When Uncle Pipey, so named because assembling and fixing pipe organs was his hobby and he was good at it being an engineer and all, Aunt Evelyn, and Nancy and Johnny moved across the street in White Oak to Red Bank, they had a music center in the corner of the living room next to the front door. i was approaching teenhood, and Nancy and Johnny had reached it. So that record player in the corner had a lot of 45-RPM records being played when we were there.
But occasionally, the wire recording machine on top of the record player would be playing classical music and opera. These wire recordings, predecessors to the reel-to-reel tapes i guess, were Uncle Pipey’s. i recall thinking this stuff was in no way as good as rock ‘n roll and being impressed with how erudite Uncle Pipey must be to like that stuff.
Up until my freshman year at Vanderbilt, that was pretty much my exposure to classical music. i listened to and loved rock ‘n roll. i also became a huge fan of the blues, listening to late night blues on WLAC radio long after i was supposed to be asleep. i disdained country music, like most i disdain today. Now i like the old country music, especially bluegrass but find the new country too commercial. As noted, classical music was not a blip on my radar screen.
Then Cy Fraser and i ended up in the same fraternity. Cy, among others, was the guy who taught me how to fit in at Vanderbilt. My white socks disappeared except for athletics. My wardrobe changed from Levis to blue and tan slacks in the warmer months, and gray wool slacks in colder times. White and light blue Gant button down collared shirts with that useless hanger thingy in the back at the top of the pleats were de riguer except when short-sleeve madras button downs were worn when it was warm. They too sported button down collars. Cordovan Weejuns, shined with black shoe polish was damn near a requirement. V-neck sweaters and a London Fog jacket were part of the new me. i was transformed from a hick, at some considerable expense to my parents, who magically became sort of cool and maybe hinted at debonair, although i really don’t think it helped that much.
Cy and i hit it off. That first semester we would go to our and others dorm rooms and play 45-RPM’s with a catch. You tried to be first to name the song, the singer or group, the label, the label’s description, and the year and location of the recording. i was pretty good, but Cy was the recognized champion across the campus. He could be walking to class and co-eds would stop him, hum a few bars, and challenge him to name the song. He always succeeded and added our other elements to his answer.
But Cy’s music knowledge was not limited to the top forty. i later discovered he had an amazing knowledge about almost every genre. Much later, i found out he knew more about Western swing than i did, and that was when i was in the heart of it, line dancing at the Lakeside hall outside of College Station, Texas while my regular job was the senior Navy officer at Texas A&M’s NROTC unit.
Back at Vanderbilt in the spring of that first year of my learning, which had almost nothing to do with academics, Billy, the “Agent” a.k.a. the “Avigator,” Parsons and i went looking for Cy “Flyface” Fraser — i was called “Junior Jock” — in, of all places, the library. We wandered into the music section, and there was Cy with headphones in a cubicle, directing to his heart’s content, and yes, he was listening to Dvořák’s “New World Symphony.” i listened enough to realize i had come across one of my favorite pieces of music…ever.
Later that spring, Cy introduced me to Handel’s “Water Music.” So my LP record collection became even more eclectic. i added the “New World” and “Water Music” to Joe Tex, Jackie Gleason’s “Oooh,” Nina Simone’s “Nina’s Choice,” the first Bob Dylan album (even though i agreed with the bluegrass band The Dillards (their fame was enhanced by being on “The Andy Griffith Show”) who said Dylan sang like a bluetooth hound with his leg caught in barbwire), added to a pretty good collection of 45’s (this was before i became WCOR’s disc jockey and amassed a pretty large collection of 45’s and LP’s).
i have had three LP’s and three CD’s of Antonin Dvořák’s masterpiece. i wore the earlier ones out listening to them when reading, mostly with Faulkner, and writing.
But sometimes now, i will sit down in the rarely used living room club chair next to the fireplace, put on my wireless headphones, and just sit and listen to Dvořák’s Ninth. Unlike Cy, i don’t direct. Just reflect. It always makes me feel good, calm, at peace.
Last night, for the first time in person, i listened again. This time in Copley Symphony Hall in downtown San Diego, Cristian Măcelaru conducting the San Diego Symphony. i was discreetly swaying a little bit somewhere in the third movement, tapping my feet softly, when i realized the orchestra was a bit blurry. i thought it was my contacts, which i wear to stage presentations, working on home tasks, skiing, and golf. But then it dawned on me while i still was simply into the music, there were tears of joy welling up.
Thank you, Cy for giving me that dream, and thank you, Maureen for making a dream come true.