One of the immeasurable joys for me over the years has been music, starting with the Christmas season of 1956. I was fourteen years old and my parents and I were decorating our tree with the sounds of Bing Crosby and Perry Como and Doris Day singing carols in the background. I had given up on popular music some months before because all the love songs drenched me in self-pity after my girlfriend broke up with me.
For reasons I’ve never understood but always celebrated, our little local radio station (the only one in the county) slipped in a very different kind of music. It was not anything to do with Christmas, not anything familiar, but it was so beautiful I stood motionless during the whole piece, transfixed and spellbound.
At the end, John (the DJ, station manager, and play by play announcer for our high school sports teams) gave the name of the piece. I heard words I’d never heard before and couldn’t understand at all. Now I know what he said but at the time it was just gobbledygook to me. The piece was “The 18th Variation in Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff.” And now I know it was just a small part of the whole set of 24 variations on the same theme. It was nearly two years later when I heard it again, was able to read the name for myself, and commit myself on the spot to buying the best HiFi equipment I could. I started with a borrowed one-tube amp/pre-amp, an old turntable removed from a decrepit console and held up at each corner by small stacks of books, and a brand new 8″ speaker from JBL, which I put in a cardboard box to give it some depth of sound. Over the next couple of years I built a speaker cabinet, bought a very high quality used turntable, a new stereo amp/pre-amp, and even a tuner. The greatest step ahead in quality of sound was when I added a second JBL speaker and built a second cabinet for it. And not long after I had the turntable converted to stereo.Wow, I was one modern guy!
It took nearly three years to save enough money to assemble that system and during that time, of course, I discovered much more beautiful music, such as the New World Symphony by Dvorak, piano concertos by Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Grieg. I’ll save discussion of these and other pieces for future blogs. Meanwhile, if you don’t have a copy of the Rhapsody, get one quickly. Don’t go another day without such great beauty in your life.