A more lenient position holds that the issue is not music itself, but dancing. Thus, music is permitted so long as it is not associated with dancing, which is a "mark of gaiety." Based on this distinction, some authorities would permit listening to, or even attending a live performance of, an opera or classical music. The general custom, however, and the one I have chosen to follow, is not to attend any concert or performance of any type of music.
My connection to music is complex and integrally bound up with my relationship to my father, may his memory live on. He had a passionate, almost mystical, connection with classical music. He grew up listening to classical music on the radio. Even as a teen, he began attending concerts at Carnegie Hall. I know this because, while going through his things, I discovered a binder in which he kept programs of concerts he attended. He wouldn't just attend concerts; he had the chutzpa to go backstage and collect the autographs of the performers.
|Program of 1945 concert signed by conductor Fritz Reiner.|
|Carnegie Hall poster. The poster was included in the 1970 Live from Carnegie Hall album of the band Chicago|
|Letter written by Pablo Casals to my father which my father framed|
|Ticket and programs my father saved while attending concerts in Germany during his army days.|
Toscanini died in January, 1957. A year later my brother was born. My parents gave him the middle name Arturo in his honor. (I can only imagine what my frum (religious) grandparents thought of this. They probably never found out.)
Most of my father's friends were fellow classical music lovers. He created his own "Berlioz Society," in appreciation of the 19th Century French composer Hector Berlioz. They would gather on Sunday evenings at our Lower East Side apartment to listen to their latest classical music finds, sitting together in silence to listen and critique. He amassed an immense collection of classical recordings, which I recall consisted mainly of multi-record albums encased in black covers.
Despite his best efforts, and to his great disappointment, my musical tastes were shaped by the music of the baby boom generation: the Beatles and their many imitators. When I was eight, he brought home a piano for me to learn to play classical music, but, after a couple of frustrating years, I quit. I routinely failed his quizzes to identify the composer of a piece of music; my standard response, "Brahms? Haydn?", must have been painful for him. An indelible memory of my childhood was when I accidentally broke his stylus while listening to Hard Day's Night, which I had received as a birthday present. In revenge for messing up his turntable, he smashed the record to pieces.
In the summer of 1965, he was offered a post-doc at Stanford University and we made the fateful move from the Lower East Side to Palo Alto, California. There I discovered KFRC and KYA, the two pop music stations which played the soundtrack of my youth.
One day in the summer of 1967, while I listened in the car, the Procol Harum song Whiter Shade of Pale came over the airways. Its melody, played on an organ, is based on, or at least alludes to, the chord progression in Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3, BWV 1068. (The song is one of the most played songs in Rock history, and Rolling Stone named it the 57th best rock song ever.)
Not only did my father like it, but he realized that rock musicians were indeed serious musicians. And he found himself, living in Palo Alto, in the midst of one of the greatest explosions of musical talent in American history. Out of this modest beginning grew a full-fledged love affair with the San Francisco rock scene. He attended the many free rock concerts held in Palo Alto and environs. He and my mother went to the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore West to see the greats in their heyday: the Grateful Dead--his personal favorite--Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, with and without Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana, Cream, Joe Cocker, Van Morrison. His built a rock music album collection which, while never rivaling the classical music collection, was nevertheless quite impressive. I've inherited it, and it represents a near perfect representation of the most important rock albums released from 1967-1971.
My brother and I were the beneficiaries of his new musical awakening. Though I was but 12, and my brother two years younger, he bought tickets and then dropped us off to attend our first concert, at the Cow Palace in Daly City, just south of San Francisco. The show was advertised in a short notice in the San Francisco Chronicle:
We saw the Everly Brothers, Eric Burdon and the Animals, and, one of the greatest bands in rock history, The Who. Then still relatively unheralded, The Who were known mostly for their crazy stage antics which included smashing their instruments at the end of each show--which we witnessed in stunned fashion as the smoke and noise rose from the stage. They were not even the headliners; that honor went to The Association, a briefly popular soft rock band with a bunch of pop hits: Along Comes Mary, Windy, Cherish, and Never My Love.
That was only the beginning of my concert-going experiences, all of which my father enabled. The day after my Bar Mitzvah, he took my brother and I to a rock festival at the nearby Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.
|Advertisement poster for my first rock festival concert|
|Poster featuring Jim Morrison that my father bought at the rock concert|
A month later, December 6, 1969, our family set out on a Saturday morning (we were no longer sabbath observant) to attend the infamous Altamont Festival, in what was supposed to be the West Coast's answer to Woodstock. It didn't turn out about peace and love--there were many overdoses and four deaths, including one killed right in front of the stage--but we were far away from the chaos, and the music itself, particularly Santana and the Rolling Stones, was tremendous. The next year he took us to see Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at the Oakland Coliseum; Young had just composed his song Ohio in response to the killings at Kent State two months earlier, and the crowd roared its approval at its message.
My father saw his last Grateful Dead concert on July 17, 1976, at the Orpheum Theatre, and I remember the glow on his face the following morning. The previous night I attended my first Grateful Dead concert as a young adult, the beginning of a lifelong journey as a Deadhead.
Not only did my father appreciate rock music, he also had an excellent eye for the art that grew out of the San Francisco music scene. He bought posters of concerts he attended, now valuable collectors items. When he moved to New York a few years ago, he had some of them framed and hung them around his office, reminders of good times gone by.
|Rock posters that my father bought, framed, and hung on his office wall.|
All this is a way of saying that music means too much to me--and meant too much to him--to shun it completely during the year of mourning. But I wanted to listen to music in a manner that befit the memory of one for whom music was so deeply implanted. So, even before he died, I began conceiving of a project to connect with him and honor his memory: to listen to his music. He eventually gave away his classical music albums, but over the years, he had augmented it with several hundred CDs. (He always maintained he preferred the sound of vinyl to digital.) A friend of his burned them and sent me the files on a couple of flash drives. I resolved, in alphabetical order, to listen to them all.
|A portion of my father's classical music CD collection|
I'm not only listening, but also, as a later day Berlioz Society member, reacting to each piece. I've created a spreadsheet of everything I listen to and recording my reaction (one to five stars, as well as a few words of evaluation). Column 1 lists the composer, 2: Name of Piece, 3: Conductor/performer and 4: rating and reaction:
Here are two small samples:
|Small selection of my spreadsheet recording each piece of music I've listened to|
I wish I could discuss my reactions with him. I have imaginary talks with him why I liked or didn't like a piece of music or what I thought of a particular performance. I'm familiar with some of the standard classical repertoire, but I've discovered many musical gems that I'd never heard before. Here, in alphabetical order, are some of them:
- Bach Concerto for solo organ No. 5 in D minor
- Bach Partita for solo violin no. 2 in D minor
- Beethoven String Quartets Nos. 14 and 15 (Opus 131 and 132)
- Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major (Hammerklavier) and, his last piano sonata, No. 32 in C minor
- Brahms Violin Concerto in D major
- Elgar Enigma Variations
- Hyden Trumpet Concerto in E Flat
- Mahler Symphonies No. 2 and 4 and Anageitto (slow movement of Symphony No. 5 (I wasn't crazy about the other movements)
- Mozart Piano Sonatas No. 4 in E Flat Major (K. 282) and No. 8 in A minor (K. 310)
- Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor
- Schubert Piano Trio in E flat major
- Shostakovich Chamber Symphony in A minor (Op. 110a)
- Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major
Sometimes the music is so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes, and I remember how how looked when he was listening to music, as if carried away by some transcendental force. With each piece I listen to, I feel more a part of the world that gave him so much pleasure. Listening to his classical music collection has been one of the central features of my mourning, carrying as much meaning for me as attending synagogue and reciting kaddish.
At first, I resolved not to listen to any other music other than his this year. My cousin in Israel bought tickets to a concert by Yehuda Poliker--my favorite Israeli musician--while I was in Israel, but I declined, so she sold them. A friend of mine tried to convince me to go to a Phil Lesh (the Grateful Dead bassist) concert under the guise of reporting on the effect of music on mourning. I thought about how the music might have a cathartic element, but again declined. But one opportunity to hear Grateful Dead music did present itself: the summer annual meet-up, a movie featuring a complete Grateful Dead concert. This year's movie featured the concert from June 17, 1991 at Giants Stadium, a show I attended.
Although not strictly in line with the laws of mourning, I went. I wanted to. The movie had both its joyous and bittersweet elements; it was the band's last truly great performance I ever saw. And it captured Jerry Garcia on the cusp of his health decline, which would diminish his talents and lead to his death just four years later. It was cathartic. I did shed a tear. I'm sure my father would have appreciated it.