I Grew Weary of Three-Chord Rock

My first favorite album was the original cast recording of Oklahoma. Mom says when I was a baby, she'd put on the record as she lay me down to sleep and by the second line of the title song I would be fast asleep. I hate that song now; it's my least favorite show tune. By the time I reached grammar school, Anne Murray was the thing. "Spread your tiny wings and fly away/ And take the snow back with you where it came from on that day..." my sisters and I would sing as we danced around the living room, strumming our imaginary guitars. In middle school, I was into rock 'n' roll, but not the rock 'n' roll of my era. Sneaking downstairs, I'd press play on my older brother's boom box, and listen to the Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA." The volume never passed two; I was terrified of discovery by my mother who had a strict house ban on rock music. Somehow big brother got away with it, but I was soon found ear to stereo. Mom grilled big brother on the music and he rose to my defense. "The music is really harmless." Mom believed him.

Junior and senior year of high school I was sent off to boarding school in Massachusetts. To cheer me up the first homesick weekend I spent there, my roommate put on Howard Jones and Cat Stevens. It worked. For the next two years, I was a devout listener to them, as well as to The Cars and The Outfield. Occasionally, one roommate's love for dance tunes would intrude on my sappy '80s rock. I remember Dead or Alive singing "You spin me right round baby right round/like a record baby right round, round, round," and my wild roommate Juliet performing her smoothest dance moves for us sheltered Catholic girls. I was never sold on the dance tunes. When Juliet was out, Howard Jones went back in the CD player.

Then came college. A grueling four years of a great books program left me little time to enjoy music. I never was one for studying while music with lyrics played in the background. Eight years of piano study had made me a keen listener to the musicality of a piece, and I couldn't detach from the song and focus on my book. So I'd put on classical music. I didn't particularly love it at first; it was just pleasant background noise. But soon it was love. For the college Halloween party, my roommate and I dressed all in black and went as parallel lines -- we were studying the geometer Euclid -- and danced in alignment to the deep cello strains of the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh symphony. The music haunted me.

I discovered jazz in college -- Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker -- and I still listened to rock music at times, adding solo guitarist Joe Satriani, and the nouveau funk band Brand New Heavies to my cheesy diet of soft hits. The rock and jazz were nice for racing down the highway to the beach or dancing at one of the school's formal balls. But I found that they didn't feed the soul. And it seemed incongruous for me to be reading the great authors of Western Civilization part of the time and listening to three-chord rock the rest. Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, on the other hand, seemed fitting companions for Aristotle, St. Augustine, and Jane Austen. Classical increased. Rock and jazz decreased.

It was also in college that I began to sing ancient church music -- four- or five-part Latin pieces which we sung a cappella during Mass. The harmony of the voices was addictive, especially when my own voice was an integral part in producing the sound. With the rest of the choir I sang Palestrina's "Sicut Cervus," William Byrd's "Ave Verum," and Allegre's "Miserere" and found joy in music that I'd never experienced before.

Now, 11 years out of college, I still listen to a lot of the same music. But I see my own kids experimenting with variety in music. My sons love a CD of traditional music of the Andes, which my husband bought from a couple of Peruvians performing on the boardwalk in Seaport Village. My daughter loves an album of songs from The King and I and The Sound of Music.

My favorite CD, the one I would take to a desert island is The Hilliard Ensemble singing William Byrd's Masses for 3, 4, and 5 voices and "Ave Verum." Every Sunday morning I put it on. The music lifts and at the same time settles my soul. A calm comes over the whole house while the five-voice Agnus Dei floats out of the Bose stereo. William Byrd feeds my soul while I feed my kids pancakes.

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