Swan Lake, Music, Dance and Love

Lynne Murray says:

My old friend, B, who is fighting to keep pursuing her photography work through many obstacles, has recently found that classical music helps calm her during a stretch of depression. We have been friends for over 40 years, and I share some of her challenges: illness, severe income loss, and mourning the absence of a nearby family support network. Poverty being what it is, for her to get a radio strong enough to receive the local classical radio station is not so simple. She asked if I had an antenna that would help, but I don’t have the right kind. I do have one classical CD, which I will lend her until radio access is established. I played it one more time before lending it to her and it reminded my why, I, one of the most musically challenged people in the world, bought it to begin with.

It’s The Essential Tchaikovsky and I bought it for this track.

It has a special meaning for me. My parents grew up in small Midwestern towns in the 1930s where music lessons were a rite of childhood and a badge of middle-class upward mobility. Also, I suspect, a rudimentary form of daycare. As long as the kid was practicing a musical instrument, you had ongoing feedback that she/he was home and not getting into mischief.

I grew up “spoiled,” as they would call it in the 1950s. I was an only child till age 12, and my parents would have made some sacrifice to get lessons if I had ever demonstrated the tiniest aptitude for music or dance.

I enjoyed music in small doses, but words and stories captivated me. When I could count, although not yet read, I had some records of Disney stories. My parents pasted stars on the label to indicate sequence, so I could play them on my own. Another form of low-cost daycare! I know some writers who can (and do) offer a play list of music they listen to while writing. But I can’t write with music on as a background. It’s as if I can immerse myself in words or music, not both at once.

I’m self-educated in music, though I never developed the overwhelming passion for it that I did for literature. When I turned 14, I sought out, for example, a Time-Life Records boxed set of classical musical masterpieces–the kind with one vinyl LP per composer. That same summer (1963) I persuaded my long-suffering mother to drive me in to Los Angeles (about an hour’s drive each way) to see the Royal Ballet at the Shrine Auditorium. It was pretty cool. We saw Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev dance in Giselle and later in Swan Lake.

I think my very modest, Iowa-born mother was a little distressed by the men in tights with dance belts. That part of it piqued my interest–which probably added to her discomfort. We had very good seats, close enough to see the sweat and greasepaint. What I liked best might have been what bothered her most.

My father later told me he was surprised that she didn’t like it, as she loved music and other kinds of dance. It was characteristic that my mother would tell my father if she didn’t like something and he would let me know. She really, really didn’t want me to be angry with her, and I often was–possibly because I knew she would tolerate it.

Anyway, soon after we saw Swan Lake, my mother woke me up one morning by playing the track above–blasting out of the stereo, on the other side of a very large house. It’s one of the most vivid memories of my life–her love, and wanting to share music, even when it meant something different to her than it did to me, even though we could never experience it the same way.

Whenever I hear that music I remember waking up in the brilliant light of a Southern California morning, in that house on an acre of fruit trees and roses that my mother loved so much and later lost to foreclosure.

When everything was new, and everything was possible.