History Miscellaneous

The Day the Music Died…in My Head & Key Facts About Famous Composers

February 23, 2017

When I was in the sixth grade I played the clarinet.  I was in the first chair grouping, so clearly I was an accomplished musician at the time.  That ended on the last day of school.  My musical talent went no farther.  Today, I could not read a music note if my life depended upon it.  It is like I went into a musical nuclear winter.

Growing up, the younger of my two older sisters and I shared a room and a clock radio.  That clock radio was my main source of music and I suppose for the 80’s it was fair.  We didn’t have cable, thus no MTV.  The only TV we had in our hourse was a black and white 13-inch number, which was replaced later on by a model the same size, but color.  I remember being confused about The Andy Griffith Show and I Love Lucy once we had a color TV.

My father hated television with a passion, hence the itty-bitty TV.  He sometimes shared his dream of tossing it into the yard.  I think the fear of radiation from the tube leaking into the garden was his only deterrent.   A few shows I remember being allowed to watch on TV were Nature on PBS, The Barbara Mandrell Show and Hee Haw.

My dad would sit in his chair and read the encyclopedias while we watched TV.  My mom sat in the chair beside with a novel.  Perhaps that is why we were allowed to watch Hee Haw.  Otherwise, it just doesn’t add up.  “Gloom, despair, and agony” and bimbo-acting women dressed in southern mockery.  Those ladies should have taken some guidance from Minnie Pearl.

I idolized Barbara Mandrell. She was my absolute favorite singer, although my exposure to music was somewhat limited.  One time, her image was on the cover of the Sunday morning Parade.  I carefully cut out the picture and taped it on the wall beside my bed.  I used to kiss her goodnight every night.

I was convinced I would become a star.  I was certain I would be discovered right then and there as I sang and danced with the Mandrell sisters in front of the TV.  As you know from my Disney experience, I struggle with setting realistic expectations for myself.  My children tell me to stop singing in the car.  When I ask why, they explain that they do not like my singing.

One must be able to remember lyrics in order to sing them.  My struggle with this is great.  Honestly, I just do not think I pay attention. As I mentioned in my last post, “Guitar Stars,” my husband loves to play the song artist guessing game with me.

I am terrible.  I lose every time, no matter what trinket he plunks down as a reward if I get it right.  I like to think it is because I am distracted by the melody verses the lyrics. I have been known to recognize a song in the first few notes. Of course I cannot prove this because I can’t remember the name of the song.  True story.

Here are a few examples of my lyric mastery:

Kenny Rogers and the song “Lucielle”

My understanding of the lyrics:

“You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille
With four-hundred children in a crop in the field”

Kenny’s version:

“You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille
With four hungry children and a crop in the field”

I vividly remember imagining 400 kids standing in rows of corn.  It was not until I met my husband that I realized my lyrics were wrong.  For over twenty years I contemplated why on earth someone had 400 kids in a field.  I was thankful they had a crop to eat.

Maroon 5 and “Sugar”

My understanding of the lyrics:

” ‘Cause girl you’re hotter than a southern California Bay

I love this song.  Love it. I have heard it many, many times.  I like Adam too and apparently he actually sings:

” ‘Cause girl you’re hotter than a southern California Day

Once again, for a very long time, I was confused.  I have been in the California Bay. I was imagining my feet in the surf and trying to figure out if they felt hot.  They did not.  I played this over and over in my mind when I would hear the song trying to reason why on earth Adam Levine would sing such a thing.  It made no sense to me.  Now I know why.

My husband bought me a lyric calendar one year for Christmas.  He’s cheeky too.  It was one of those tear off square little numbers with a sheet for every day.  I would forget about it for days upon days and would take chunks, rip them off and toss them into the trash.  I should have studied these more.  I could have won at least one episode of the song lyric game and gotten the trinket.

Did you know that in the song “Africa” Toto actually says:

“It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do

And not what I thought:

“It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a million men on Mars could ever

I cannot be alone with this one!

I think I was just born in the wrong time.  The music compartment in my brain was designed for lyric-less songs like some of those written by famous composers.  I know this because I can pick their songs out of a line-up about as easily as I can catch a fly with chopsticks like Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid).  Sarcasm.  Did I just date myself?  Don’t be jealous – I have Ralph Macchio’s autograph.

I have room to learn in this arena and unless you are my one acquaintance I know from the gym, who plays the cello professionally, you might have some room too.

According to Plato, music

“gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything.”

The benefits of music have been long recognized.  After World War II hospitalized soldiers who were fortunate to hear professional community musicians play had notable physical and emotional responses to the music.  Music therapy today is used to address mental health issues, improve developmental delays in children, help Alzheimer’s patients, treat substance abuse, help those with brain injuries and even those with chronic pain.

Taking music lessons or even just listening to music can enhance spatial intelligence.  In other words, it can help you perceive the visual world accurately.  Spatial reasoning is crucial for complex mathematics, music, science and chess.

There are many researchers who feel music has the ability to strengthen the mind and heal the body.  Some feel it frees creativity.  Others have done studies illustrating that music can influence heart rate, blood pressure, pain perception and overall health and well-being.

The music in on our iPod consists of modern-day music and nothing of the classical variety – although, my children have expressed they enjoy it when we play classical music via the Amazon Firestick.  That thing is great – you can just tell the firestick to play genres or certain artists and it does.  It can also search for things for you (not your keys though) and give you the weather forecast.  This is all super handy.

I fight new technology because frankly I think we have enough.  My husband is my polar opposite and keeps his ear to the ground for new tech opportunities.  I knew nothing of this device and I didn’t know the need existed.  I will say it is super simple and if nothing else, has helped open our palettes to more music – like Kids Bop 😉.  Check it out here:  Firestick (it’s only 39.99!).  It is pretty cool and will save you on cable bills.  (We don’t have cable and survive with this and Netflix)!

I digress.  In an effort to improve my classical music knowledge, I compiled a light overview of famous composers.  It helped me and I hope it helps you too!

Famous Composers

Johan Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is famous for his work as a violinist and composer during the Baroque Period (1600-1750).  Baroque is derived from the Portuguese word baracco, which means “oddly shaped pearl.”  Nineteenth century critics applied this term as they felt music in this period sounded over-ornamented and exaggerated.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was an Italian composer also during the Baroque period and is most-famous for his violin concertos.  The violin was the most highly-regarded instrument of this period.  His most famous composition is The Four Seasons, which many are familiar with due to hearing Seasons (Spring): I. Allegro it at weddings.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was the most productive composer during the Classical period.  He composed concertos, operas and symphonies that are part of more than six hundred pieces of work.  He is the most recognized composer that has influenced western music.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is one of the most-famous composers in the world.  He was instrumental in bridging two musical styles, Romantic and Classical.  Romantic music began in the late eighteenth century, while classical music began in the mid-eighteenth century.  The themes of romantic music include nature and self-expression.  Themes of classical music include restraint and emotional balance.  Beethoven’s compositions include 32 piano sonatas, 15 string quartets, 5 concertos and 9 symphonies.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was an Australian composer.  He lived only 31 years, yet wrote nine symphonies and up to six-hundred songs in German.  His most-famous piece is entitled, Unfinished Symphony.

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) has been labeled the greatest pianist of all time.  He was also a composer and conductor.  His masterpiece piano composition is entitled Annees de Pelerinage (“Years of the Pilgrimmage”).

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) was a Polish composer and pianist.  His talents were recognized by the time he was seven years old and his works were compared with the childhood genius of Mozart.  His first professional piano lesson was at age six and by the age of 12 his teacher advised he could no longer be of service, as Chopin’s mastery surpassed his own.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was a German composer and pianist.  His reputation as a pianist and composer is so great that he is often grouped with Bach and Beethoven as the “Three Bs.”. Many of his works are staples of modern concerts despite some of his contemporaries finding his music too academic.  His work is considered to be rooted in techniques of Classical masters.  Brahms was a perfectionist and destroyed some of his works and never published others.  The highly constructed nature of his work served as the inspiration for others.

George Gershwin (1898-1937) was an American composer, who only lived 38 years.  He composed musical scores for Hollywood, including music for the movie Shall We Dance.  He received an Oscar Award for the song, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” in the aforementioned movie.

I was wondering to myself if there are any comparable greats today. The Voice and American Idol provide many an entertaining view of some artist’s ease into the music industry compared with the aforementioned greats who literally spent their lives studying music and toiling away on an instrument.

I have outlined my musical prowess, so keep that in mind, but I would consider Prince to be a modern-day musical great.  I imagine his mind to have been a never-ending swirl of musical algorithms and lyrics, constantly immersed in the creation of lyrics and music.  My brother, who introduced me to Led Zeppelin and Van Halen when I was a tween, considers David Gilmour and Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Brian Wilson (Beach Boys) and Earl Scruggs to be great musicians of ‘our’ time.  My mother and father would say the iconic bluegrass musicians Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe (the “Father of Bluegrass”) are comparable musical greats.  Elvis Presley admired and was influenced by Bill Monroe.

There is a matter of relativity in musical greats until time passes.  In many ways, this quote from Frederic Chopin is relevant,

“When one does a thing, it appears good, otherwise one would not write it.  Only later comes reflection, and one discards or accepts the thing.  Time is the best censor, and patience a most excellent teacher.”

It is easy today to broaden our musical knowledge and to find new musical interests.  In the age of smart phones, iTunes, Apple Music and the Firestick I mentioned above, you can easily search for music and broaden your musical palette.

So, put on some new music for your journey!

xo, the mama at mamabrains


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