Monday, May 10, 2010

Seany Time

By Joel Marks

Sometimes we wonder how we became the way we are. Was it nature or nurture that made me come to love the same music my mother loved? Now that I've had the experience of raising a child of my own – that is to say, my stepson -- some of the mystery has been resolved for me. Sean’s musical talent probably came from his parents, but at least some of his taste will have come from me.

I think it began when my mother died. I retrieved my LP collection and old KLH phonograph that had been stored at home. The KLH was perfect because it did not skip no matter how much you bounced. And bounce we did, Sean, since your introduction to art music was as an athletic activity. I knew you would want to be moving and not just sitting and listening.

Do you remember? -- Every weekday night, after dinner and doing the dishes, it was "Seany Time." These were some of the most blessed moments of my life. Do you know which one was the best for me? -- when you wanted me to carry you in my outstretched arms while we listened to your "flying music.” (This was "Something's Coming" from West Side Story.) You were stretched out like Superboy. We “flew” together around and around the living room, looking down at the grain of the carpet as if it were trees or clouds far far below. Sean, you were totally into that music, and so was I. We shared the rhythm of it, the imagination. We were one!

The music you especially liked was music we could run to ... the more frenetic the better. Remember how we would chase each other from the living room to the dining room and through the kitchen and up the landing and back into the living room, faster and faster? That was Prokofiev, either the frenzied first movement of the Third Piano Sonata or the magnificent first movement of the First Piano Concerto. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (first movement) was another favorite.

You also had a deep and mysterious side. How many times we sat inside the "boat" you made of the couch and pillows, lights off in the room, peering out into the gloomy darkness (sometimes with a flashlight), waiting for the appearance of the sea monsters. (That was Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta.) Then they would suddenly attack while we tried desperately to fight them off. Other times it would be the approach of a mighty typhoon, roiling the waters, clashing thunder, forcing us to hold on for dear life. (That was Liszt's Totentantz.)

You showed talent on your mother's (actually, her mother’s) somewhat-the-worse-for-wear piano at a very early age. Therefore when my mother died I decided to have her Steinway grand moved to our place. She had been a composer and a pianist. Her spirit seemed at once to enter into you. From upstairs I would hear you picking out tunes by ear and creating your own. "This is a miracle," I would think, holding back the tears. I was determined to have you begin lessons with the perfect teacher I knew. Sean, I'm so proud of you: You've kept it up.

I was also eager to bring you to concerts. You became acquainted with the extraordinary musical resources of nearby Yale University (as my mother used to take me to Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center). You first heard Amahl and the Night Visitors there, and Peter and the Wolf (that night the high point for you was after the concert when you got to swing on a tire hanging from a tree in the college courtyard).

And do you remember the Yale student at the "Speed and Fear" concert who played the thrilling third movement of Prokofiev's Seventh Piano Sonata, then jumped on to the piano bench and then into the audience right next to you?

We went to several concerts in the large Woolsey Hall, where we would sometimes sit in the very last row in the upper balcony, and other times in the very first row of the orchestra. Do you remember when the incredibly fat lady was playing the breathtaking cadenza of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto … and we had to slink out right beneath the piano and then up the aisle, facing hundreds of people in the audience … because you had to go to the bathroom!

(Woolsey Hall is also where I took you some evenings to rollerblade in the courtyard with the Yalies. Always music went with moving for you, Sean.)

So when you are an adult, if you find yourself attracted to “classical” music of a certain sort, this is probably why. This is exactly how it began, Sean. I know … I was there.