A Question No One’s Ever Posed (at Least Not to Me)

“If you could only have one [this part varies] for the rest of your life, what would it be?” is a question and a what-if game that I’ve alternately enjoyed and dreaded over the years.  I had mixed feelings when it was immortalized on the Stand By Me poster:

If I could only have one food for the rest of my life?  That’s easy–Pez.  Cherry-flavored Pez.  No question about it.

I recently thought of something that hasn’t come up, not in let’s-go-around-the-circle-and-get-acquainted sessions, or camping-out-in-the-yard situations.  If you could only hear one piece of music the rest of your life, what would it be?

For me, two pieces of music are tied for first, and for me, I doubt it’s possible to break the tie.  The two choices are either Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Sergei Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite.  The only way I can minimize these two choices is to say that if I could only hear one movement of the Ninth Symphony, it would be the second.

I’m not even sure if the Ninth Symphony would have made it onto the list–let alone vying for a spot at the top–if my parents had watched Walter Cronkite and The CBS Evening News.  Being a native of Wheeling, for a long time my dad insisted that he and Mother watch WTRF-TV (Channel 7) local news.  Channel 7 was the NBC affiliate at that time, and it was followed by The Huntley-Brinkley Report.  After 30 minutes of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley reading the news, the closing credits rolled, playing the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  I didn’t know how special it was until my dad played it for me from their multi-LP set of The Basic Library of the World’s Greatest Music.  (I was familiar with Beethoven, because I had seen his scowling profile on the bust that was atop Schroeder’s toy piano in Peanuts.)

I guess The Huntley-Brinkley Report is a much better introduction to the Ninth Symphony than A Clockwork Orange, although after seeing that film, I no longer associate “The William Tell Overture” exclusively with The Lone Ranger.  When I was in Boston, Sega released an arcade game called Pengo.  In between rounds, a row of penguins would march out onto the screen and dance to the “Ode to Joy.”  The game was popular enough that I could easily get the tune stuck in my head.  Later on, when hearing a professionally recorded version of it, if I’ve been unmedicated for awhile and the volume is high enough, the choral portion of the “Ode to Joy” triggers manic episodes for me that can last hours or days.

The other piece of music, The Lieutenant Kijé Suite, was the B side of the Peter and the Wolf album that my dad brought home for me when I was in kindergarten.  It was produced by Vanguard Everyman Classics, with Boris Karloff narrating Peter and the Wolf.  (It is available on CD, and well worth every cent, especially the way Karloff ends the narrative: “…because the wolf, in his hurry, had swallowed her [dramatic pause] alive!”, stretching out the final word over several seconds.)  I felt adventurous one day, and decided to play the “grown-up” part of the record, and found I liked it even better than Peter and the Wolf.  With an adult’s supervision, I could play it on our stereo, the big Magnavox console in the living room, but my parents finally let me play it on my orange and white General Electric monaural phonograph in my bedroom because I asked them to play it for me so often.

My mother told me that when I was in first grade, she had no idea that I was being physically and emotionally abused by my teacher.  She said that I would come home, eat my after-school snack, “then you’d go up to your bedroom and put on Vivaldi on your record player until it was time for dinner.”  I do love Vivaldi (enough to rip an entire five-CD set of it to this laptop), but my memory is a little fuzzy on playing Vivaldi.  (I did hear, several times, about my bringing The Four Seasons to Pioneer Nursery School when the teachers asked us to bring our favorite records to share.)

The other vivid Vivaldi memory was when I was preschool and kindergarten age.  We didn’t go to church on Sunday morning.  My mother usually slept late, and I would be awake to watch Tom and Jerry before the news and religious programming dominated the rest of Sunday morning television.  My dad was usually awake at the same time, reading the Sunday paper.  As far as remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy, we always played Vivaldi’s Gloria, and Dad would make pancakes or French toast, along with bacon and eggs, instead of pouring me my usual bowl of cold cereal.  (Neither of us said it aloud, and I only came to realize many years after Dad died in 2000, but part of what made the Sunday morning celebrations so special was that Mother was not with us.  She had yet to go fully nuts, but she had begun going down that path.)

First UU’s holiday concert last year included the Gloria, and I forgot how special that piece of music had been until I arrived at the church.  I arrived while the musicians were tuning and warming up, and the goose bumps rose all up and down my arm when I heard the French horn player practicing “Gloria in excelsis Deo” several times while preparing for the concert.

And what have I been listening to while I’ve been typing this entry?  Such erudite music as Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” and The Fortunes’ “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again.”

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