Monday, April 8, 2013


The orchestra I play with is giving a pops concert this weekend.

There was a time I would have groaned about that. I would have assured myself and everyone around me that I had no time for cheesy stuff.

But the truth is, I think pops concerts are really fun.

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The truth is, I accompanied my parents to operas and ballets and orchestra concerts, and yes, I grew up on lots and lots of Mozart and Bach. But there is way more to the story. More often than not, my mom kept jazz playing on the dining room stereo, and when we went as a family to listen to live music, it seems to me now that it was usually jazz. Usually outdoors, usually on a terrace somewhere along the Mississippi River.

Beginning in seventh grade I took to raiding the collection of tapes my mom’s bass students had given her of the music they liked to listen to. Her studio was not limited to, but certainly well-populated by, high school boys. So while my dream-piece to play through junior high and high school was the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, I also listened to a ton of Led Zeppelin.

And summer meant Minneapolis Pops Orchestra concerts at Lake Harriet.

We accompanied my parents to pops concerts countless times over the years. It’s hard to say which was the backdrop—the music, or everything else. Half the time (at least) I was in my own world. But the music, the people, the atmosphere—all of it mixed together into its own special thing.

What that means is that playing music from “My Fair
Lady” brings back the taste and smell of popcorn and strawberry ice cream and the sound of sailboats clanking in the marina. “West Side Story” is full of not just scenes from the movie but also games of Uno played on a maize-colored blanket, conversations with other musicians' kids, and grapes and carrot sticks and sandwiches pulled from an Igloo cooler. Sousa marches carry with them the hope of being chosen to lead the children’s parade with the drum, smiling strangers clapping their hands,  my parents watching for my sister and me from the orchestra on the band shell stage. And how many works, I wonder, are connected in my memory to the threat of a storm, watching blue-black clouds moving in, wondering if we would need to take shelter and where we would go if we did?

The music is linked to probably every summer of my life: the summers I babysat other musicians’ kids—the little boy who liked to throw rocks in the lake and pointed at every airplane that passed overhead, the other little boy who was not content to hold my hand when we walked over to get popcorn but would slowly move his hand up my arm to play with the skin on my elbow. The summer I worked at the Refectory, scooping ice cream (huge scoops balanced on sugar cones, just 95¢) and leaning over the counter to take orders. Summers when I was in college, and went along only to find somewhere to hide with a book. Summers with my own children, even, finding Nana and Grandpa on stage in order to wave at them, playing in the park up the hill, marveling at the sight of a cat on a leash.

All of it mingles inside of me. Makes something new.

This is why you cannot tell me that any kind of music (or art or literature) is dead, that certain types are worthless, or irrelevant, or unapproachable.

There is always interaction of some sort. What you heard, what you saw—it is always mixed with what surrounded you when you heard it (or saw it or read it.) It mixes further with the thoughts in your head, the state of your heart, the way your body felt at the time. Then it goes even deeper and mixes in your memory with the questions it raised or answered, the feelings it aroused or quelled. In that moment, and in all that mixing, this piece of art that began outside of you becomes something new—co-created between composer and musician and listener (or artist and viewer, or writer and reader.)

And if it is something new each time somebody hears or sees or reads, it is always relevant. Always alive.

*     *     *

On the concert this weekend, and new to me, and beautiful, is this. Hope you enjoy it.

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  1. One of my favorite memories from last fall was bringing Elias, not yet three months, to the Minnesota Orchestra's concert at Lake Harriet. I wonder if he sensed the excitement in the air when they played the music from Star Wars. :)


  2. This is wonderful. Thank you! We plan our whole summer around the Pops and have for years. What a gift, what joy - the music, the musicians, the setting, the families - all of it!

    1. Thank you! My parents have played in the orchestra for many years, so these concerts are very much a part of our family summer schedule, as well. It's a special thing, isn't it?


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