There are a handful of orchestral concerts I attended years ago that I still remember, while there are many more I don’t recall in the least. Today, I’m interested in why this is. Why is it that I remember some performances and not others? When I thought about it, I realized that in each case, there was a specialness to what was going on in the concert, to the person I attended the concert with, or to the reason I was at that particular concert. In other words, what made each of these concert memorable was the context in which they were given and in which I attended.
Sometimes in the winter of 1974, I attended a performance of Verdi’s Requium. The performance was in a huge cathedral with an echo I seem to remember timing at 7-11 seconds. The choir was massively big. It was a field trip taken with my high school music appreciation class, and it was the first time I had heard a choir that large. To this day, the Verdi Requiem is one of my favorite pieces. Later that same year, in the spring, I attended my first opera with the same class. It was Puccini’s La Boheme, and the effect on me was much the same. I was enthralled with the music, captivated by the plot, and was absolutely carried away when the tenor sang Che gelida maninia. To this day, La Boheme is, you guessed it, my favorite opera. In both of these cases, with the Requiem and with La Boheme, there was an exciting newness, and a powerful emotional surge that burned the whole package—music, staging, story, and how it all made me feel—into my memory. As a music educator, I cannot forget the impact that a music teacher who took his students to these concerts had on me, and the ways in which it brought my love for music to full bloom.
Sometimes, when I take my students to concerts, I am sure that a similar awakening will occur in at least some of them. It is not always readily apparent, Many kids, when asked after the performance how they liked it, will nonchalantly reply that it was “good,” or “okay.” Then, maybe a year or two later, when they realize I’m taking another class to a concert, they will light up and excitedly tell me how much they liked going to a concert, and many will ask if they can go again. These kinds of encounters with the arts are deep-seated, life-changing, permanent memories. The emotions the arts draw out of us, at those moments when they are especially strong, change us.
I know my memories won’t be the same as yours, but here are just a few more of mine; a sort of greatest hits from my musical memory.
Harold Wright playing Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.
Richard Stoltzman playing Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in Carnegie Hall with the Tokyo String Quartet
Leonard Bernstein conducting Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony at Tanglewood
Pavarotti giving a recital in Hartford, Connecticut, 1977