It seems that I slowly absorbed most of the music that I prefer; I learnt to like it from familiarity. I cannot, for example, tell you when I began to like Fleetwood Mac, Sam Cooke, the Rolling Stones, the Drifters, or the Four Tops. I grew up listening to my mother’s playing their records. Yet, familiarity cannot account for everything. To this day, I cannot stand hearing Randy Travis and similar country music acts, though my mom played such songs all the time at home.
However, there are some musical encounters that I clearly remember when I instantly fell in love with a song the very first time that I heard it. It might be that such songs simply speak the same language as other music to which I have been accustomed, or it might be that they just trigger some psychological pleasure point. Perhaps, they are just beautiful or they proficiently speak the language of the soul. From majestic movements to simple, catchy jingles, certain tunes just take you as soon as they reach your ears.
I remember the first times that I heard Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth Symphonies in their entirety. Of course, I recognized portions of them from popular culture. Who can grow up watching Looney Tunes without a fair amount of exposure to the music of high culture? Anyway, if you would pardon the cliché, I was transfixed by the symphonies. From the very first sitting, I knew without any doubt that Beethoven had been inspired by God. As Socrates might say, Beethoven beheld the beautiful itself; for his work testifies of an intimacy with the divine.
I had the same experience with Wagner’s Tannhäuser, Smetana’s Má vlast, Rachmaninov’s settings for Vespers, The Planets of Holst, and mostly everything from J.S. Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, and Rimsky-Korsakov. To hear them is to love them. Of course, we might expect that such great artists would create works to be immediately appreciated.
Yet, I have had similar though lesser experiences with some pop, as well. I liked the Chieftains, Clannad, and Enya the first time that I heard them, I became a fan of Belle & Sebastian upon hearing “The Boy with the Arab Strap” on my brother’s music list, and I also instantly liked Coldplay. Clearly, I tend to like bands that sound like other bands that I like. So, that could explain some ready acceptance, though it does not account for everything. I remember finding The Cranberries very distasteful the first time that I heard O’Riordan’s peculiar Celtic wail, though I developed quite a taste for them after a few weeks of hearing them in my friend’s car.
Please allow me to showcase one last song. In elementary school, I remember attending a school assembly that featured a musician. I always liked assemblies, as they broke up the monotony of class time’s everlasting tedium. So, I was kindly disposed to the guests out of gratitude. Regardless, when the man began to play the piano, I fell for his song. To hear it is to love Scott Joplin’s famous ragtime classic, the “Maple Leaf Rag.” It is simple joy. Well, here is what I believe to be one of Joplin’s piano rolls (perhaps processed through MIDI, though I am not sure):
If you want a better rendition of the piano roll, consider Milan Record’s’ Scott Joplin: Ragtime Piano Roll. The quality of these recordings, as well as Joplin’s genius, make the album well worth your money. In my opinion, they excel the other recordings of Joplin’s works. If you wish to listen to full versions of these tracks, request them on Rhapsody, where you get to listen to twenty-five songs for free.
The album site’s short biography on Joplin quotes the following from Allmusic: “Born in Texas in either 1867 or 1868, Joplin was raised in Texarkana, the son of a laborer and former slave. As a child, Joplin taught himself piano on an instrument belonging to a white family that granted him access to it, and ultimately studied with a local, German-born teacher who introduced Joplin to classical music.” How remarkable! Enjoy Joplin’s great gift to America.