In Berlin, when I was 6 years young, my mother took me to the opera “Hansel and Gretel” by Engelbert Humperdinck (1812), based on the Brothers Grimm fairytale. It held many wonders for the musical imagination.
My grandfather was a signal trumpeter with the Ulan cavalry under Emperor Wilhelm. My uncle Otto played the contra bassoon for the Berlin Philharmonic. He always took the time to sit with me in front of our little Bakelite radio to listen to classical music and opera on one of only two available stations. Music coming over the airwaves was a mystery to me. It was a sign of the time; the rest was propaganda.
On New Year’s Eve, the family went to enjoy the Berlin Symphony to listen to Beethoven’s heavenly Ninth Symphony. To usher in the New Year, it was a ritual to have a dinner of poached carp and Sekt, the German version of Champagne.
Music became part of my life early on. In those days, life was good. But soon the peace vanished behind dark clouds. The year was 1938.
The tranquility of my early years was short lived. War engulfed Europe with all its horrors and waste. I could not understand why our apartment and my piano were destroyed during a bombing raid. My lessons had not even started. The essence of life became survival. I never learned to read or write music.
But the planted seeds of music had not perished. They were just latent, ready to sprout when history had regained some sanity.
After the war, the American soldiers introduced us to jazz, Dixieland, blues and gospel music. “Porgy and Bess” was the revelation of a musical soul. Like so many times in history, music built the bridge for people to be healed.
Music is an expression of its time, so over the years the variety and types have expanded. There is no bad music. The Beatles expressed it: “Let it be, let it be.” Important is how music resonates in your soul. Music resonates and its vibration creates energy.
Excavations in the Neanderthal area of Germany revealed a leg bone from a turkey. It had five holes, a mouth piece and could be played like a flute. The little instrument is about 600,000 years old and is the earliest record of a musical instrument played by our earliest ancestors. Indeed music has no boundaries; it is the language of the world.
Today’s technology enables us to select our choice of music anytime, anywhere. Only an iPod and earphones are needed. The world’s music can ride in your pocket; an awesome privilege. It should be cherished as sustenance for our soul, as background for deeply listening and really feeling the vibration. When the mind is open, music is meditation. It reaches the inner level of our consciousness to heal and sustain us.
George can be reached at [email protected].