Today is Tuesday, July 9, 2019, and I have been an official resident of Texas for exactly one week. I’ve been busy since I got here. I’m nesting a bit, organizing our kitchen gadgetry and arranging the decor. I’ve also been dipping quite a bit into the famous Austin live music scene.
Over the course of approximately three days, I attended three live music performances running the gamut of musical genres. On the 4th of July, my husband and I heard Jeff Plankenhorn at City Park in San Marcos. Two nights later, I heard Chicago play Austin City Limits to a sold out crowd. Finally, Sunday afternoon, I listened to an Austin–based string quartet, the Miró Quarter, play Mozart and Schubert as part of the Austin Chamber Music Festival. In just under seventy–two hours, I feasted on a veritable smorgasbord of repertory delights.
As I’ve reflected on these recent experiences, particularly their range and diversity, I’ve been thinking a lot about the centrality of music in what I’ve come to consider a life well–lived. Allow me to expound on this ideal.
My family are music people. My three sisters and I grew up with weekly piano lessons, choir practices, and trips to Bebop Record Shop, our local Jackson, Mississippi, record and cd store, independently owned and operated business with two locations in town.
Bebop presented the eye with a vista of CD and record stacks sweeping across the floor of a large open store space from its front entrance to its shadowed back corners like rows of cultivated farmland. A shopper could spend hours weeding her way through Bebop’s abundant inventory to the sound of some esoteric musical selection, rarely recognized beyond its rarified halls. Truthfully, my visits were typically mystifying experiences. I rarely recognized either artists or titles within the panoply of offerings.
As a teenager, the field of my musical taste and understanding ranged a mile wide and an inch deep. I loved music, all kinds, but I tended to play/repeat the songs I liked without venturing much further into artists or genres. CD–shopping represented a difficult pleasure. I loved the mystique of those trips to Bebop, but I often came away with a record that contained the single track I’d heard and liked within a playlist that otherwise baffled my ear. A lingering shame trailed me from those visits, too, that I did not know more about or feel affinity with those unfamiliar artists and records I encountered in the shop: evidence of a far superior ear and understanding.
Of course, I’m dating myself here. I grew up in the era of the compact disc, in that long–ago time and far–away galaxy where record executives pre–selected and packaged our playlists for us. You know two songs from this artist, and these songs are on two different CDs? You gotta buy them both. At $19.99 a pop. Play/repeat.
As I recall, there were two basic end–runs around the aforementioned stifling financial conundrum. Who else remembers BMG Music Club? Membership included an initial shipment of multiple CDs drawn from a reasonably wide selection for an absurdly low price with an ongoing commitment to purchase at least one CD a month at full price.
That rarely worked out as well as I hoped. There was still the problem of stacking up dozens of CDs that maxed out at 3 or 4 songs I liked beyond the one I loved. Also, point of fact, compact discs were not in reality compact at all.
The other alternative? The legendary Mixed Tape. A thing of beauty, creative enterprise, and technical expertise. I was a virtuoso in the art of making mixed tapes. I know lots of people think the same about themselves. Seriously, I was good. Better than good, I was great. My sisters still speak in hushed and reverend tones of my Out West tapes––two series of truly epic mixed tapes I recorded for two different cross–country family road trips. Legend.
Where am I going with all this reverie? I’m not really sure. I think it started with the Miró Quartet on Sunday afternoon. One of its members explained that the group will celebrate their twenty–fifth year together during the 19–20 touring season and that the upcoming anniversary has sparked for all of them a desire to look back and note not only milestones of achievement but also, and very specifically, the learning experiences and mentors that have shaped them as individual musicians and as a group.
The program they played on Sunday was an exact replica of a program played in 1910 by a quartet that is a mentor by extension of Miró: a mentor of a mentor, many times removed. I love this thoughtful reaching back into history to connect a present experiential moment of music with a real and specific moment in the past.
It moved me to think of moments in my own musical past. A trip to Boston in the summer after my junior year of high school during which we did many things I could recall with some effort and prompting but of which I retain with visceral clarity the memory of hearing the Boston Pops Symphony play Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
An earlier memory (I think I was twelve) of a trip to Salzburg, Austria, during which I heard a string quartet play in a glittering, candlelit chamber of Mirabell Palace. The quintessential chamber music experience: dream–like and cloaked in the timeless robes of shared place, emotion, and sensory experience.
My trips to Bebop Record Shop and those mixed tapes, precursors to the Spotify playlists I’ve been curating in recent years, all of which resonant with the personal historicity of memory. One playlist that conjures my days at Wake Forest University, midnight drives contemplating life and the future, Dave Matthews Band live in Wait Chapel, and more intimate moments with friends, boyfriends, and others than I can recount. Another titled simply Texas started sometime in the last two years to somehow make real the anticipated move that would reinvent life and the future.
I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately. Rick is back in Mississippi for a bit, and the house hasn’t been set up with internet service yet. I’ve been restricted to one device, my phone and its apps, for more than a week, but I haven’t felt deprived. I’ve had Spotify and my playlists and the rich company of memory.
Where has all this memory led me? I think to the not so original idea that music is a living thing. Not just live music but the lived experience of music in memory. Something like the idea Wordsworth held about nature and its ability to take up residence in the mind. Music seems to me to live in a similar way. In symbiotic relationship with the mind that offers it a place, stretching time and experience, and filling both with a sense of intention and presence.
Yesterday, we got internet service at the new house. The tech arrived just before 7 o’clock in the evening. When he left an hour later, every device in the house was reading a strong, clear signal. I made myself a plate of food and sat down with the iPad to tuck into a few episodes of Suits. I LOVE Donna Paulsen.
Before I knew it, I had hit 11 o’clock, still sitting at the dinning room table hunched over my empty plate and the iPad. Who lives completely untouched by the seductive pull of binge–watching these days? Besides, Suits is a great show. I‘m really digging how the writers are developing characters like Katrina Bennett in the wake of the big departure.
This morning, however, I’m contemplating the very real difference between the non–memory of those lost hours and the palpable recollections of time, place, emotion, and experience that filled the first days of my new life, in this new house, in this new city. It’s almost as though someone/something has left the building.
It will come back, I’m confident, when I issue the invitation.