All this week, we’re falling in love with classical music all over again during KDFC’s Love at First Listen week! We asked for the stories behind the pieces that kicked off your love of classical music, so it’s only fair we share ours! Scroll down for stories from the KDFC staff.
Classical music crept into my life about the same time that Leonard Bernstein was first presenting his Young People’s Concert programs on CBS-TV from Carnegie Hall. Yes, I had experienced Disney’s Fantasia at the movies but two specific works are my earliest sources of joy in the classical world.
I can’t help thinking of my mother every time I play Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini on KDFC. When I was little we had an LP of it that featured Philippe Entremont at the piano. Well, my Mom wore that record out!
A few years later in 4th grade Miss Noise (how’s that for a music teacher’s name) showed us students that old composers with serious looks and powdered wigs could have a sense of humor and be quite clever. One day Miss Noise revealed and set-up the “joke” in Haydn’s Surprise Symphony (#94). Out of nowhere with a loud bang of a chord in the second movement, the orchestra wakes up the snoozers in the audience. What fun for young Ray and it still brings a smile to my face whenever we play it on the air.
I did not grow up in a house with classical music. It was strictly Frank Sinatra, Trini Lopez, and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. When I went to college, I thought listening to classical music (on KDFC!) would help me study. I heard Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess and fell in love. I remember going to the music library at Cal one day, and listening to an LP recording of the Pavane over and over again. I always try to keep that experience in mind when I’m on the air; the awareness that for some listeners, they’re hearing a piece for the very first time and possibly falling in love!
I don’t ever remember not liking classical music, and I fully own my adolescence as a “classical geek”! My parents used to say that, when I was an infant, I would sit under the piano while my mother practiced until I finally said: “I want to learn how to do that” (I was about 3). But the first piece of music that made a lasting impression on me was Smetana’s “The Moldau (Vltava)” – I remember that Captain Kangaroo’s TV show had a segment that must have been one of the first concept videos for classical music. Beginning with a few drops of dew on a leaf, a little rainfall hitting the forest floor, and rivulets of water becoming a little brook, it followed the stream until it became a mighty river flowing right through the center of a great city – the way the real Vltava flows through Prague. It’s still one of my all-time favorite pieces.
Mickey Mouse made me fall in love with classical music. I can’t remember what age I was when I first witnessed the wonder of Fantasia – but I do know that I was NOT a fan of Night on Bald Mountain. Way too scary! I was already terrified by the annual television appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West so was not about to add another frightful image to my impressionable kid brain.
But the glee of Micky Mouse testing his magical powers, and the “oops” thrill of those endlessly replicating brooms, made me sit up and take notice of the power of music to tell stories and paint pictures.
One of the first pieces that implanted itself in my brain was an opera overture. As a youngster, I had an LP (remember them?) of famous overtures. The one that grabbed me was Louis Ferdinand Hérold’s Zampa Overture, one of those high energy curtain raisers. And it wasn’t just the melody. I still remember my ears being drawn to the accompaniment (a bunch of brass). It wasn’t until many years later that I looked into the story of the opera and learned that it ends with the title character being crushed in the marble arms of a statue as Mount Etna erupts in the background.
It was the sixties and, rather than be gently finessed into liking classical music, I needed to be thoroughly bludgeoned into submission. Enter Siegfried and company. My first classical music love was Wagner’s Ring – all 16 hours of it; listened to on headphones in 45-minute snatches during free periods in high school amid coffee-drinking adults in the English teachers’ faculty lounge. When at last the world had been purged by one woman’s sacrifice and the gold was returned to its rightful owners, I was transformed. A sobbing mess. Truly I was not the same person I was when I had started listening to The Ring a few months earlier. I knew then without a doubt that I had to stay as close to this state of clarity, of meaning, of significance as humanly possible. It was at that moment, at age 17, that I made the decision to become a classical radio announcer. What better way to keep the music up front than a career like that? So far, so good. Thanks, Mr. Wagner.