As Julie Andrews sang, a very good place to start. I was thinking back on the first music I can remember hearing (it’s been some time ago, now!) It was my father’s. He was not a professional or a famous musician, but he loved music and he played three instruments: harmonica, accordion, and clarinet (not all at once).
He must’ve picked up accordion being born and growing up in Amsterdam. Accordion was the instrument he was best at, and as a child I didn’t have my head filled with the notion that would later take hold in my generation: use an accordion, go to jail. And he could really play that thing. His most mind-blowing piece was (wait for it…) “Bolero.” Yep, he could play all of “Bolero” on the accordion! You’d think this would be something of a travesty, but it wasn’t, at all. He would astound people with that. Accordions are quite… flexible, you might say. You can get a huge range of sound from them. Deep in my heart I have a genuine appreciation of the instrument, not the polka kind of thing, but the fact that real (why, even sexy) music is possible on it. That’s my Dad, all over.
Being from the World War II generation, he and my mom loved big bands, and my Dad was inspired to take up the clarinet. He had two of them, a sleek black one and his pride and joy, a solid silver one, now lost in the mists of time (alas). By the time I came along, years of smoking (and, sorry to say, drinking) had taken their toll, and he would only play clarinet a little, now and then. What I remember most was the twinkle in his eye when he would take one out of its case and put it together. He’d smile at me as though we shared a secret and he’d play some Benny Goodman. Not quite like Benny Goodman, but the love was there, and that’s what mattered.
He never did stop playing harmonica though. I have no idea how he picked that up, but he’d get the same twinkle in his eye, we’d share the same smile, when he pulled out his most excellent Hohner. This is where the curious machinations of memory come in; although he played his harp all the time, for the life of me I can’t remember what he played. Was it swing? Western? Blues? I have no idea, and thinking about it, I believe I know part of the reason why. These are such early memories that I didn’t know the names of music, the different genres. He was just my Dad blowing his harmonica. They were happy times, before he got sicker and sicker, with depression, alcoholism, and heart disease. Obviously music got him through the horrors of living in Nazi occupied Amsterdam, though, and how remarkable is that?
He gave me my never-ending love of music, of all kinds. In the same evening, he would go from playing opera on the stereo to bringing out the Hohner; anything went. He bought me my first stereo record player and sometimes sat and listened to the Beatles with me (Beatlemania, a topic for another post!) He had a tiny little smirk on his face (in the end, it’s fairly simple music) but one of my very fondest memories of him is the day he said “I get it! I get why you like this! It’s good.”
Thanks Dad, for giving me that thread of joy that has never left me. (Sorry, though – I know you tried, but I still don’t like opera… )