TRUE STORY: After being discharged from the U.S. Air Force, I attended Cathedral College in Manhattan. This is a minor seminary for the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. At 21 years of age I had had no experience with music other than some old 78 rpm records of big band music my parents listened to. And of course the ubiquitous rock ‘n’ roll of the time. I occasionally listened to this on the radio of my beat up old Opel, a green wreak my brother Glenn christened Moby Pickle. This German auto slid and squealed loudly during the rain. Slick tires and water under the hood saw to that.
One stormy evening I drove home alone from the City to Rye, New York where I was staying with my mom. I could not find a parking space near her apartment so I headed up a steep hill and turned onto dark side street. Slowly cruising I found a space and backed in. About to shut the Pickle down I caught a sonorous sound emanating through the static of the radio. I gradually turned up the volume. Thunder and lightening outside made it difficult to hear. Then suddenly the music was clear. I sat entranced. For the next three to four minutes I felt my heart well up. I could hardly keep from crying. Never had I heard something so moving. An orchestra. Intense. Powerful. String and wind instruments were driving home a surging melody that touched something deep within me. I was lifted to ‘another place’. Gasping for breadth after the climax, I listened to no avail for a name. What was that?? I sat for a while contemplating the experience. It haunted me for weeks. I knew it was ‘classical’ and I wanted to know more about it. Despite what my contemporaries disdainfully called such music: High brow. Didn’t know what that meant anyway.
Almost a year went by during which time I occasionally listened to someone’s classical music. Then one quiet Saturday morning I was babysitting for a neighbor’s infant. The young mother had said yes when I asked if I could play some of her 33’s. After listening to a couple I put on this ‘easy listening’ music, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Much of it sounded familiar but THEN there it was! My heart started pounding. Tears started to flow … as they are now in the telling. I listened enraptured … once, then carefully placing the needle to the beginning of the track … again. The experience was incredible. Little did I know that this was a prelude to many more similar experiences. Of course, I did identify this lovely orchestration: “Tristan and Isolde” by Richard Wagner … 19th Century opera composer.
Forty years have gone by since my introduction to ‘classical’. I love all types of music … jazz to country. I enjoy certain artists and groups in virtually every category. But my highest ‘highs’ have always been listening to a large orchestra usually at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. I remember being there once on a cold winter night. I was sitting next to an 80 year old lady in the fourth row. Most of the time we kept our eyes closed. But occasionally I looked over at this lovely woman and saw tears running down her cheeks. I empathized. We had taken flight with Rachmaninov.