On New Year’s Eve I did not watch Ryan Seacrest or Anderson Cooper. Nor did I see a barely-clothed Mariah Carey barely sing. Instead, I did some cross-stitching, actually saw the ball fall, and watched Live from Lincoln Center on PBS.
During that New York Philharmonic concert – a little Copland, a little Strauss, lots of Rodgers & Hammerstein – I somehow left my recliner and 2016 far behind. As the strains of “Carousel Waltz” surrounded me, I found myself transported to Cowan Hall on the Otterbein campus in the spring of 1968.
As the musical Carousel unfolded in the darkened theater, I listened to the titled merry-go-round music as a colorful carnival scene played itself out on stage – complete with jugglers, young lovers, and a dancing bear.
Then suddenly I found myself backstage for my costume crew duties and just as suddenly walking to my dorm, freed from my 11 PM curfew by participation in the production. My mind returned to my living room only after all the magic of springtime on a college campus had completely filled my twenty-year-old self.
Certain pieces of music hold special power over me. Oh, the occasional song pops out of nowhere, to which I tap my foot or hum along. Sometimes I even look up Billy Joel on YouTube and belt out “Piano Man” or “Uptown Girl” with him as I work at my desk.
But certain, special songs whisk my mind off to another time or place – such as those from Camelot, which a group of us from Otterbein watched at the local movie house.
My tears streamed as the medieval love triangle mirrored the one I was witnessing with a close friend. Juggling relationships, she eventually sent a “Dear John” letter to her deployed soldier fiancé and became engaged to her new campus love. The moral dilemma I felt reduced me to sobs right there in the theater that night when King Arthur finally sang: “Once there was a spot/for one brief shining moment that was known/as Camelot.”
Not all scenarios are so detailed and inclusive. Some music simply transports me to a specific location. The finale of Swan Lake takes me to the Stuttgart stage where I saw my very first ballet, and the overture of Carmen places me in a cheap seat on the top row of the Munich opera house.
Other songs keep me local. I can sing my way through the Methodist hymnal, all the while picturing the sanctuary of Concord Church, where I also led the Vacation Bible School kids one summer in “This Little Light of Mine” and “Jesus Loves Me.” And this lifelong Graham Falcon is immediately infused with school spirit when the Dancin’ Band drives onto the football field for its pregame performance of the GHS fight song.
Music can also remind me of past eras. “Cherish” by The Association and anything by The Fifth Dimension – “Aquarius,” “Workin’ on a Groovy Thing,” “One Less Bell to Answer,” to name a few – defined my college years. And until the mid 70’s when I opted for talk radio, The Carpenters and The Jackson 5 routinely accompanied me as I drove between home and school.
Then there are movie songs. I still lament Katie and Hubbell’s divorce whenever I hear “The Way We Were” and delight in Yul Brunner and Debra Kerr’s waltz to “Shall We Dance?” from The King and I. Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” or John Lennon’s “Imagine,” plunge me back into dramatic separation and reunion in the war-decimated Cambodia depicted in The Killing Fields.
It has taken me longer than usual to write this article, mostly because I have played – and sung along with – every song at least twice. And because I lose all good sense every time Placido Domingo and John Denver combine their vastly different voices and styles for “Perhaps Love,” I had to sing with them at least three times!
I cannot, however, call my work finished without noting the place the Beatles and their music have held in my life.
“I Saw Her Standing There” returns me to fifteen days before my sixteenth birthday, when they performed live on The Ed Sullivan Show to an audience of screaming girls – and my father’s observation that the British rockers all needed haircuts. “All My Loving” lands me right back at a Graham basketball game when we ignored the action on the floor to drool over photos in the latest star magazine, professing our undying love for John or Paul or George or Ringo.
I have not been alone in my affinity for history’s bestselling band. As I played a recording of their German versions of “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the very sound of the fabulous four lured several female colleagues into my classroom – as surely as The New Kids on the Block would eventually mesmerize their daughters.
So, I have shut down YouTube and the Solid Gold Oldies channel for today. Rest assured, however, it may not be long before I recall my student teaching days in Columbus when “Bridge Over Troubled Water” topped the charts; my drives to Miami University in the early 1970’s with “Abraham, Martin and John” emanating from my car radio; the funeral of Princess Diana when Elton John sang “Candle in the Wind.”
To rephrase Neil Sedaka: “That’s where the music takes me…”