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Episode 080 Music

Opening scene from the movie 2001: the camera floats over a seemingly green still earth. The music is the eerie drone from, “Thus Spake Zarathustra”. Early man appears and a fight ensues over a waterhole. A random bone is picked up and swung as a club. The affect is dramatic: tools, or weapons, have been discovered. The music escalates into the thrilling bars of which we are all familiar. The large bone used as a club is thrown into the air and morphs into a space ship. Strauss’s, “Blue Danube” settles us in space - music has a way.

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

Does music come to mean something else when one retires or moves into the later stages of life? Does interest in the art form loose force as one grows older, or grow stronger - sort of like interest in Football – which I use to coach and now hardly ever watch. I’m not sure. I suppose it depends on the person. But, music is such a powerful force in one’s life - at every stage. Even before birth some people start playing classical music close to the womb in hope of influencing the mind of the yet to be born. I’m not sure about this idea, but – some people swear by it.

No question that infants enjoy the syncopated beat and streaming of repetitive tunes. While babe is in the crib, we bend close and sing lullabies. Before kids can speak they bounce up and down to rhythmic music and dance before they can walk. Young children continue to enjoy syncopation and movement to music. They soon sing tunes that they use to drive their parents crazy. They are eternally repeated as parental reaction moves from raised eyebrows, to rolling their eyes, to screaming for something different.

Teens have their own music. Rap and hip-hop now course through the air. They cackle over the radio and stream through the Ipods. For my generation it was rock and roll or folk music: Elvis Pressley, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez, and so many others. Those were the good ol’ days. Today I have no idea as to whom the teen audience listen, it all sounds like trash to me. But I am sure it is about love, or lust, caring, political awareness and social conscience. Some teens are more influenced by early instruction and gravitate towards playing an instrument and the classical tradition. They read music, study music, play music and explore it in all of its’ manifestations.

My segue into the classical music scene came when I was in my twenties. Of course, I had some exposure to the genre, but not much. I decided to take a class entitled, “Literature and Music in Western Civilization”. It was put on through the University of Colorado at the summer Aspen Music Festival. A husband and wife team taught the class. He was a philosophy professor and she was a concert pianist. We read Herman Hesse’s, “The Glass Bead Game”, and Thomas Mann’s, “Magic Mountain”, and “Doctor Faustus”. A concert grand dominated the classroom. It was an amazing experience. We listened to the music in, “The Tent”. The heart leaped and at other times the tears flowed. Music has a way of getting right inside the skin. When Itzak Peralman brought the bow across the strings in the tent it was as if God spoke.

Classical music did not replace the music of my youth. It only added to it. The two seemed to merge into something greater. I took up the study of the classical guitar which continues to this very day. It always amazes me when I strike a string and hear just that pure, crystalline sound. Even playing the music scales can bring solace and excitement. I don’t play very well but sure enjoy it.

Retirement expands the time that we can lean back in the chair, close our eyes and be transported to another world. We find ourselves getting tickets to the opera in Vancouver; going to music recitals at the college; participating in the local guitar society, or purchasing some new technology to make music more available through out the house. Perhaps most appreciated is the time retirement allows for us to stop and listen to street musicians – one of my most treasured things to do.  Tied to the music has been a few years spend learning Ballroom Dancing where we combine movement to music. Retirement benefits seem endless.

A few years ago I took my guitar and visited nursing homes playing in individual rooms. I recall one person who was confined to bed and in a comatose state. He never moved. In his silent room I played. I’m not sure if he could hear me but the nurse said that she thought he could and would certainly appreciate it. Close to death and still music might speak.

Funeral services remind us of this connection. As we gather to say goodbye to our relatives and friends, the mystical language of music speaks. The congregation gathers in singing a traditional hymn; the strings strike familiar notes, the voice of the soloist soars. The music binds us together. From birth to death, music seems to be a necessity in life. Perhaps Nietzsche’s most acceptable aphorism was: “Without music, life would be a mistake”.

This is Retirement Talk.