On Being Seduced By Classical Music

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: This week, KBAQ-FM, a station located on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, is relating memories of first experiences with classical music sent in by their listeners during previous weeks. The station’s DJ’s (folks with the most pleasant voices) are sharing a reader’s anecdote each hour on the hour as well as the reader’s request for the DJ to play their favorite classical piece.

I emailed KBAQ the history of my seduction into classical music, but I did not request that they play any particular work. Since KBAQ expressly asked that viewers write about an individual or event that first made them aware of—and appreciative of—classical music, I doubt that they mentioned my email, which mentions several periods in my life in which I gradually came to prefer the genre. But I really do not know, since I do not listen to KBAQ all day long. Nonetheless, I thought my little biographical essay (edited slightly for the different venue) might make a suitable blog post…at least for those of my regular visitors who also enjoy classical music.

And that is what I hope you will do now: Enjoy!!!

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I am a child of the 1940s, and my only experience of classical music during those early years was a rather ignorant appreciation of the themes to radio dramas: “The Lone Ranger” (Rossini’s William Tell Overture), “The Shadow” (Saint-Saens’ Omphale’s Spinning Wheel), “The Green Hornet” (Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee), and “The FBI in Peace and War” (Prokofiev’s A Love for Three Oranges). I enjoyed all of those themes, although I hadn’t the faintest idea what their titles were or even that they were of a genre called “classical”.

During my high school years, I would often listen to a Dallas, Texas, station whose call letters were KIXL, which played classical records. KIXL is now a religious-program station, I hear; and the only source for classical music radio in Dallas is WRR-FM, a City-owned station on the State Fair grounds. More regularly, I admit, I listened to KLIF, a Top 40’s music station then but now talk radio.

In 1958-59, while I was in the air force and studying Chinese at Yale, one of my room-mates was a budding neo-NAZI, although I did not recognize him as such at the time. He was all hung up in Thomas Mann, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Richard Wagner. Despite our collisions of thought, we had a strange mental or spiritual connection—something like what Bertrand Russell claimed he felt during his first strolling conversation with Joseph Conrad:

At our very first meeting, we talked with continually increasing intimacy. We seemed to sink through layer after layer of what was superficial, till gradually both reached the central fire. It was an experience unlike any other… I have known. We looked into each other’s eyes, half appalled and half intoxicated to find ourselves together in such a region. The emotion was as intense as passionate love, and at the same time all-embracing. I came away bewildered, and hardly able to find my way among ordinary affairs.

Well, maybe not that intense, but something similar. Years later, a Congregationalist minister with whom I had had a conference, described the same type of reaction to our conversation the following Sunday during his sermon, although, thankfully, he did not mention my name. Oddly enough, although I had appreciated the talk, I had not detected the same feeling in myself.

My air force comrade and I had dubbed our mutual sympathy “bwo chang” (“wave length” in Mandarin Chinese). After our training, the friend was assigned to a base at one end of Okinawa and I to another, so we did not see each other often; we did, however, attend a viewing of a biopic about Franz Liszt in a theater at his unit’s base. Then, after we were both out of the service, I went up to his home town of Seattle, Washington, for a change of scene and to discover what the “bwo chang” really was, since neither of us was really gay. However, I couldn’t find permanent employment after two months and the “bwo chang” seemed to have dissipated, so I returned to Dallas.

Yet I still retained fond memories of that intellectual/spiritual connection—warped though it might have been—and read much of Mann, waded through some of Nietzsche, and listened to one of the first stereo recordings of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, conducted by Georg Solti. I loved it!!! I could not force myself to sit through the windy singing of the rest of the Ring music-dramas. However, I did enjoy for years thereafter Wagner’s more popular overtures and preludes—Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger, and Parsifal.

Now my classical music interests have expanded, leaving much of Wagner behind. I love almost all the works of the Russian composers, especially Sergei Rachmaninoff. But I still enjoy Frenchmen Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel; and the Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez has first chair, right now, in my favorite musical list.

I have written several blog posts about music—three about the little Dutch girl who won Holland’s Got Talent trophy in 2013, and one just recently that was an email dialogue between me and a local friend’s uncle who is a retired music professor residing in Louisiana. One other post concerns what some art-minded psychologist has christened “synesthesia”. Below, I have provided the URLs to those posts for any of you who have not already viewed them. Enjoy!!!



NOTE TO NON-BLOGGING READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.


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