Oh, Rachmaninoff where art thou?

It’s late afternoon, a beautiful summer day, and all I long for is the most innocent of pleasures, sitting in a chaise on the deck, music resonating through the wide-open sliding doors. Any random selection from my shelves might do but today it’s Rachmaninoff I crave, “Piano Concerto No. 2.” If music has a way of evoking a specific time and space, this piece places me squarely in a Manhattan studio apartment, Upper West Side, late 70s, shelves stacked with books and weighted with an array of LPs that turned a 400 square-foot box into a chamber of sound. Something about this particular concerto had me listening over and over again, always brought to tears by the sheer beauty of it, somewhere between melancholy and transcendence. Minor keys have that hold. When I learned, from the liner notes, that Rachmaninoff composed the piece after coming out of a period of creative despair, I cried more. Sometimes you know something before you ‘know’ it.

Today my craving is to be outdoors listening in. I need to hear this piece of music  – right now – and begin frantically searching for it, in the process recalling a recent conversation with a friend about the ways in which we organize our music. She’s alphabetical, through and through. I was once tempted to go that route, but the sheer thought of all those CDs reshuffled and reordered, was overwhelming. Besides, I tend to organize music by association and (loosely) by category. Rock (in all its manifestations) encompasses the bulk of my collection. Classical and jazz have their own shelves; within, it’s a less clear-cut affair. I need Keith Jarrett next to Bill Evans and Thelonius Monk, Renee Rosnes and Fred Hersch and Lynn Arriale (to name just some of my piano faves). If I were being alphabetical, Beethoven should be next to Chopin on my classical shelves, but music (in my collection) has a logic all its own. I need Springsteen near Dylan. I also need the Grateful Dead near Dylan. Neil Young’s rendition of “All Along the Watchtower” on Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration gets him pride of place next to that astounding  compilation.  Clapton is within finger distance of Jim Hendrix and the Stones. And the Beatles. Patti Smith is next to Janis Joplin, on a shelf just above Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro, Mary Chapin Carpenter and the McGarrigle Sisters, Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell. A sweet segue to my (loosely defined) divas, who get a section to themselves.

Old Blue Eyes did a CD of duets with some of those divas in 1993. Not a favorite of mine (duet suggests to me a musical dialogue, two singers side by side, not studios apart) but I’m a sucker for a torch song. Not to mention the Sinatra I know and love best, The Capitol Years (a three-CD set one shelf below), that honeyed crooning casting a sentimental spell, leftover tears spilling at the instant recall of my mother. In a heartbeat I see a matching pair of light-wood console stereo speakers dominating the living room of a small Brooklyn apartment, one fixed, one with a lid that opened to a hidden turntable and storage space for LPs:  The debonair, winking Sinatra beckoning Come Dance with Me. The harlequin and  shadowed Sinatra singing for Only the Lonely. Hardly a stretch to see Pagliacci in the cover design (which was exactly what Sinatra intended and for which he would win a Grammy). He once said of Mario Lanza, “If I could sing like that, I would put a bird cage around my head and wouldn’t let anyone near my voice.” Hard not to conjure the voices of Sinatra and Mario Lanza, Tony Bennett and the Andrew Sisters, without hearing the crackle of vinyl. I have no Mario Lanza CDs but I have plenty of Pavarotti; time stops when I listen to him sing “Nessun Dorma.” Billie Holiday’s voice translates to pure ache in my heart.

By the time I locate the Rachmaninoff CD (who could have put it on the very bottom shelf with miscellanous, nondescript New Age numbers?) it’s Happy Hour, EST. Not that I need an excuse for a glass of wine, late afternoon. My husband, home from golf, begins cleaning the barbecue grill. I sit back in the chaise, the top branches of the trees dancing, for me. Birds tweeting what I can only imagine to be approval of what they hear. Squirrels scampering (is there a better word for the way they move?). As the intensity of the piece builds, the emotions kick in, sounds issue forth from me. Breathy, deep sounds worthy of a wisecrack from my husband re: what neighbors might think we’re up to. Some things (sometimes) really are better than sex. Speaking of which, whatever titillation might be derived from words on a printed page (in every shade imaginable) is no measure (in my book) for the places I go when my  husband hits the play button, Cowboy Junkies Trinity Revisited.

14 thoughts on “Oh, Rachmaninoff where art thou?

  1. Hi Deborah. Next time you feel like sitting outdoors and listening to Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto or something else as beautiful please let me know. I’d come over in a second!

  2. Sometimes you know something before you ‘know’ it. It’s that intuitive edge you have that gives you the knowledge of things you don’t know via the natural senses. Don’t you love it? That inner knowing.

    I used to love Keith Jarrett and all that light jazz, but we had the albums, not the CDs. I do proudly own all the Joni Mitchell CDs though.
    What good taste you have in music! The better to entertain you with my dear. Where do you live Deb? What fun it would be to sip wine in your yard under the dancing trees.

    The book arrived a few days ago. Here’s the thing though. I’m saving it until I ‘get through’ this other book a friend wanted me to read. It’s a bit like writing, the scenario. Have you ever been writing, trying to get from point A to point B, and thought, I’ll be glad when I get to the good stuff? And you find yourself impatient with where you are in the story, and wish you were already there, at the fun part?

    However, I couldn’t resist peeking at the shoes, but then I disciplined myself to return to the not-so-fun read 🙁

  3. Now that all my music is digital, finding a piece of music is a simple matter, but there’s something to the hunt for a lost item that I find satisfying.

  4. Deborah, you need to switch to iTunes. That way all you have to do is type in the name of the composer, or the song into the search box and it’ll pop up. Voila! It’s so easy. I sold all my CD’s at a recent garage sale. No longer a need to alphabetize as iTunes does that for you.

  5. I feel that I can tell a lot about a person by the music they listen to. We are obviously made from the same cloth. I’d sit on your deck, and share a glass of wine with you any day.

  6. Deborah- thanks for reminding me that I need to let music into my life again more often. I tend to work in quiet (expect for some brain sync CDs on rare ocassions)and I know my music takes me back to places I adore revisiting or fear the memoires that don’t stay buried.I like how you organize your music. not to different than what I do and Old Blue Eyes was background music of my youth thanks to my father. give me a couple of notes and I can tell you the song.

  7. I agree when u wrote, “Some things (sometimes) really are better than sex.” Besides music, it holds true for so many other small innocent pleasures in life too, like enjoying a picnic with family, writing or meeting a long lost friend, and in my case..these days, talking to my bump and feeling my baby respond with kicks and rolls! 🙂

  8. Deborah, you and I are musical soul sisters. From your rock collection to Sinatra to Pavarotti…I’m right there with you. There’s nothing like music to evoke a time and a place, and nothing like a fine glass of wine out on the deck to enhance the beauty that moment. Sounds lovely.

  9. Hi Deborah,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts… I miss that crackle of vinyl.

    Been living outside my comfort zone, making a mixed CD of songs I’ve never heard before. The music comes from the library, mostly… along with a few picks from amazon. Not an easy feat for someone who loves familiar company… it’s been hours of picking and choosing to get half way there…


  10. It’s so wonderful that you have such an eclectic music collection. It’s odd that as a musician, I don’t have a huge record collection. In fact, the only time I really listen is in the car or at live concerts. Probably this is due to fact that I teach piano students everyday for 4-5 hours and when I’m done, I just crave the silence! I do enjoy the Rach II, but Bach will always be my one true love. Terrific post!

  11. My music collection is haphazard…in plastic storage boxes. But my husband has out everything we own into mo3 format, so should I need to hunt, it’s pretty easy. But I wi d up on Pandora, listening to new artists and old, of particulat genres, or based on a certain musician. My taste is so ecclectic.

    There were years when all I listened to we’re sings I could sing…and so a couple or a few decades went by in which I missed the groups most others my age were listening to.

    And then there were all the years I listened to the music my sister (16 years older) loved…and these were my favorite musical year…the ones I cherish.

    Classical calls and pulls at me in the most amazing ways. A solid Moonlight Sonata can make me cry anytime, anywhere. My husband made me a cd of different versions of this masterpiece, and I cherish it! Now…if I could only find it.

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