New Pleasure From an Old Friend

The Curmudgeon didn’t like high school music class more than any of the other kids. It was more like a “music appreciation” class during which we were exposed to different forms of classical music from different time periods and by different composers. As he recalls, the primary preoccupation of the students in his eighth grade music class was trying to figure out if it was true, as rumored, that the teacher, Miss MacDonald, had once been a Playboy centerfold who on those pages was known as “Peaches and Cream.” We didn’t really see it, but the very idea was so very tantalizing. As best he can recall, The Curmudgeon didn’t come away from those two years of music appreciation classes with any more appreciation of music than he had before those two years.

The library with the records in 1974

A few years after taking these classes The Curmudgeon earned his driver’s license and one of the first things he did with his new driving privileges – and something that gives you an idea of what a wonk he was/still is – was start using a much bigger and better public library than the one closest to his home, which he traveled to by bicycle. (For those of you from Philadelphia, this meant forsaking the Welsh Road branch for the Northeast Regional library.)

It was at this larger library that The Curmudgeon encountered…records! Actual phonograph records (it was 1974, people; it was a public library, not a museum). That was the good news; the bad news: no contemporary music. Instead, they were mostly classical records and show tunes. The Curmudgeon was disappointed, but it was hard to resist the temptation of free records to borrow so he thumbed through the rather small collection and came across a title that looked familiar: Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony in E Minor, often referred to as his “New World Symphony.” With no better selection criteria than a familiar name, The Curmudgeon picked up the record, checked it out, took it home, and played it.

And abso-freaking-lutely loved it. Those high school music teachers knew what they were doing: it was wonderfully melodic, with soft, sweet melodies and bold, galloping passages that dared you not to bounce up and down in your seat while they played. When the three-week borrowing period ended he went out and bought his own copy – a cassette! – and returned to the library and began withdrawing more titles with familiar names from past music classes: Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (from fifth grade!), Brahms Number 4, Beethoven’s 5th (dum dum dum DUM!) and 9th (“Ode to Joy”), and others. He enjoyed them all and continues to listen to them, and others, to this day.

Or you can conduct with one of these, too

But Dvorak’s New World Symphony has remained his favorite all these years and he’s not ashamed to admit that he can both hum the entire symphony and will, on occasion and when alone, pick up a pen (or a spoon or a screwdriver) and “conduct” it.

Okay, so he’s a little ashamed, but only a little.

So flash this story forward from 1974 to 2017. When The Curmudgeon married he moved into his wife’s house and she owned one of those little Bose speakers (see photo). The Curmudgeon was unimpressed: his speakers, in his condo, are nearly four feet tall. After several months living in Mrs. Curmudgeon’s house the couple returned to The Curmudgeon’s bachelor condo for six months while their home was undergoing renovations that were done well but took waaaaaay too long. During that period The Curmudgeon borrowed the Bose and kept it in the room where he worked. Toward the end of the stay in the condo he performed a sound test with three devices – the boom box he had been using in that room for years, a cheap wireless system he had used for a few years in his condo’s kitchen, and his wife’s Bose. The Bose was the clear winner, so with it returning to its home in the family room in the house, The Curmudgeon decided to treat himself to a new little Bose for his home office.

He knew it was better and had been enjoying it, but one day – the day he started writing this piece – he played the New World Symphony on it for the first time.

Red, naturally

And it was amazing! He has listened to this piece of music probably several hundred times over the past 43 years and heard things he had never heard before.

And they were great! Little, subtle bits, extra beats, tones playing beneath the main melodies, instruments he didn’t realize even played during some parts of the symphony. It was a miraculous experience.

The Curmudgeon’s not telling this tale to endorse a particular kind of music or a particular kind of speaker. He just wants to observe that while we’re constantly on the lookout for new experiences and new things, sometimes there’s real pleasure awaiting us in the old and familiar, too.

But now, he can’t wait to test “Scheherazade.” And Brahms’s #4. And “Rhapsody in Blue.” And Holst’s “The Planets” – especially “Jupiter!”

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  • Scott  On November 16, 2017 at 8:44 am

    Bose makes great products….pricey, but worth it.
    Thanks to Miss McDonald, I have had a life long appreciation for classical music, Rachmaninov in particular. Looking forward to next spring at the Kimmel Center, for my next fix of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor.

    • foureyedcurmudgeon  On November 16, 2017 at 8:50 am

      Yay, Peaches! But people like you and me are why I cringe a little when people talk about music education in the schools as a “frill.” A frill? Who’s to say? More a frill than, say, the five ridiculous years of Latin I took?

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