This month I was stymied by the challenge to recall my earliest connection with classical music.....in the home, yes I suppose. I recall Spike Jones (1940s!) and Broadway shows, and no specific classical stuff comes to mind. When Brenda played the "Largo" from the New World Symphony, that hit the nerve, so here is a tribute to my music teacher in backwards, 1950s, James Island, South Carolina.
I was in 4th and 5th grades.
Our infrequent classes were held in the big room that had a raised platform for a stage but was mostly used for eating lunch. That music we learned was a choral piece. My mother may have also had a recording of it. But it ALWAYS triggers an intense heavenly response, a poor description but the best that words can do.
In any case I was certainly on board by 8th grade when we moved back to the Chicago area. I still well remember the teacher relating some background to Mozart's 40th and feeling just fine with that—it was not a novelty to me. And maybe it helped that my very first school, in Chicago, was named after Mozart. He has become my favorite and I can do pretty well with screeching along with Nozze in Italian... etc.
At that time I also learned to sing La Perichole, all parts, passionately, in English along with Patrice Munsel, while I did the dishes. And in high school I made good use of the public library collection.
I have sung in church choirs and did one Messiah (exhausting!!) but am not much of a singer, I mostly squawk. In my 20s I taught myself some rudiments of piano-playing (without feet)— making it clear I have no performance talents! Doesn’t matter, I have the ears to hear. My ballet career floundered around age 6 when the allergens in the dance studio got to me. No loss to the dance world either.
I am a retired elementary art teacher. My first job was at the National Music Camp at Interlochen, (Junior-Intermediate ceramics) because of my musical interests. But mid-life, got an M.A. in costume/textile history and to make a long story short, last year I was invited to give a paper at Colonial Williamsburg, on printed cottons, and saw fit to bring in as much reference to 17th and 18th century music as possible because as I prepared my PowerPoint, trying to set the scene, I could not, could not, fail to include the so-rich musical climate.
Alas, I could not get them to play a bit of Loussier playing a Bach passage at the end. And yes, in my art room I played classical music for my little bunnies. A favorite memory is watching 2nd graders standing and painting, wagging their behinds to one of Bach's French suite gigues (with Gilels). I did not reveal that they were hearing "classical" music because they would have made faces. Ignorance can allow bliss, too.
And oh yes, Van and the Tchaikovsky....engraved into my DNA early on. And the "Rach 3" which I first heard (at his hands) at dusk at Grant Park in Chicago. We were 16. Sigh. How fortunate we are to have had public-provided accessibility. I earnestly hope anyone that pays taxes thinks about how little we really pay to have such a blessing. I shudder to think of how much of my being would be blank without these experiences.
(Editor's note: Share your earliest memories at here or via e-mail at classical915.org.)