Tag Archives: Music

Seeing Isaac Stern in Concert Touched My Heart

26 May

When I was 23 years old I was fortunate to see the violinist Isaac Stern in concert.  My husband, then my boyfriend, got us the tickets that were excellent, about six rows back from the stage.  I remember watching as he created the most beautiful music. But the moment that touched my heart was when he meandered over the stage to our side of the theater, all the while making music, and as he reached a crescendo he lifted on to his toes…. I was sure he would lift into the sky with his music, upward into heaven.  I thought, “this is what Marc Chagall was painting when he drew his musicians flying in the sky. This moment is a Chagall painting.”

I thought of Isaac Stern yesterday throughout a concert at the Kansas City Symphony conducted by Michael Stern, Isaac’s son.  Although we have season tickets to the Pops Series of the Symphony, and we go to other concerts as well, we have never actually been to a concert that Michael Stern conducted.  As I watched him conducting, putting his entire body into the music, I flashed back to that moment about 40 years ago when I saw his father.

Since that time when I was in graduate school, I have been to many concerts.  I have attended concerts throughout the USA including the Aspen Music Festival, Boston Pops, Kansas City Symphony.  I have been to La Scala, in Milan, where our hosts arranged for my son, my husband, and I to go behind the scenes at the music school [Accademia d’Arti e Mestieri dello Spettacolo (Academy for the Performing Arts]and see the incredible instruments and tour the school.  I still cannot believe we got to do that!

Although I took piano lessons for many years, I was never the most talented musician.  (See link below.) Those years of lessons, however, taught me to love music.  I love to listen to the sounds of a symphony. I have sat in other venues and listened with my ears and my heart to other wonderful concerts and extremely talented musicians: including violinists Itzhak Perlman, Midori, and Pinchas Zukerman; and cellist Yo Yo Ma.  I have seen Zubin Mehta conduct.

Not one of them have ever compared to Isaac Stern for me.  Perhaps it was because it was my first time to see such an extraordinary musician.  However, I think it was because of the way he lived and breathed his music.  I will never forget him on his tiptoes, playing his violin and reaching to heaven with his music.

For me it is true, as this quote attributed to Plato says,  “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”  For me, it was Isaac Stern who first truly gave me this gift.  Seeing Isaac Stern in concert touched my heart.

https://zicharonot.com/2016/08/02/a-chair-a-baby-grand-piano-and-yiddish-songs/

My Grandpa’s Voice Can Still Be Heard

15 May

On November 7, 1981, my cousin made a cassette tape of my grandfather singing his favorite songs in Yiddish.   It sat in my house for all these years. I could never listen to it after he passed away.  Grandpa had a wonderful singing voice and used to sing to us all the time in Yiddish.

Two months ago, I took the cassette tape to a company that turned it into a CD.  I got it back on Friday.  On Mothers’ Day, I listened to my Grandpa sing in Yiddish and listened to him speak about his life in Europe and coming to the United States in 1920.

He passed away in 1989, so it has been a long time since I heard his voice.  It was just as I remembered it.

Listening to this tape was interesting in many ways.  Most of the stories he told, I have heard before.  I had spoken to my Grandpa about his life in Europe many times.  I just never recorded him.  I am extremely grateful that my cousin made this tape.

He sang six songs.  Tumbaliaka, Hativah in Yiddish, Ofin Primpinchick,  Yiddisha Mama and two others I had not heard before.  He left out some I remember him singing. But it doesn’t matter. Hearing him sing these favorites is a gift.

Grandpa left his home in 1918.  He was the oldest of five children who lived on a 16-acre farm, that they owned, in Austria.  He said if he had stayed in Austria, he would have eventually had two acres for him and a place to build a house.  (I wrote about Grandpa leaving Europe in an earlier blog, see link below.)

When he first arrived in the USA, he lived with his uncle Morris and went to work as a butcher.  A farm boy, he knew about animals.  He worked for $4 a week.  He did not know English.  It was a job he did not like.  A month later, he switched to being a baker for $20 a week on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn.  (I never knew the address in Brooklyn. ) He was lucky. He had relatives who were both a butcher and a baker.  And they provided him with jobs.

Grandpa was brought up to follow the rules of Shabbat, although they were not extremely religious. He had no beard or payos.  But when he first started working at the bakery, he had to light a fire on Shabbat.  “I sat there and cried,” he said, “because my Mother always told me that if I light a fire on Shabbat I would die.”   He did not die, so the following week he lit the fire without crying.

Grandpa excelled at baking.  But he said he was very bashful.  People would say to him, “Do you want to meet a girl,” and he would say yes.  But they did not work out.  Then, by accident, he met our Grandma in Brooklyn.  He went to deliver a gift to someone, and there she was.

“Before Thelma, I did not look for someone. But when Thelma came it was different.  Something drew me to her,” he said.  “I was 25, she was 18 or 19.  To look at, she was nothing.  But it is the person she was. Someone made for you.”  (I disagree. I think my young Grandma was lovely.)

They got married in September 1925 and lived in Brooklyn, till my uncle was born. Then Grandpa opened his own business in the Bronx, where they lived for five years. And my Mom was born. In 1929, they moved to Linden, New Jersey.  My grandparents opened a new bakery.

But they had it for only about 18 months.

My grandmother was ill.  Grandpa said she had to go back to Europe to see a Dr. Lapenski in Krakow.  He could help her.  She was sick from the fumes from the gas in WW1.  I honestly had never heard that story before.  (I wrote about her time in Europe in earlier blogs, see links below.)

When Grandma came back, they moved to West New York, New Jersey, and opened the bakery they would have for almost 30 years.

“I wanted my children to have a better life,” Grandpa said.  “My Mom did not know that I had to learn to read.  I worked on a farm.  I had no education.  My parents said, you know how to work in the field that is enough.  My Mom thought I would stay in Europe.  She did not know that I would leave.”

My cousin asked if he was afraid to come to the USA by himself.  He started to laugh.  He was not afraid.  “It could not be worse than where I was,” he said.  “It had to be better.”

He told us a bit about his younger siblings and his parents. But the main discussion was the fact that none of them survived.  “I could not convince them to come,” he said.

As for his wife’s parents, my other great grandparents, Grandpa said, “From the day I got married I had to support her family.”  Which is true. Her mother had died during WW1.  And her father, was an educated man.  He studied.  “His wife made a living for him,” my Grandpa said.  When she died, there was not much income.

The tape was made just over three months after my grandmother died.   It was strange to hear Grandpa say her name.  He never said it when she was alive, to keep the evil eye from getting her.  He was still in deep mourning.  They had always thought he would die first as he was six years older.  But instead she died.

“You struggle and you pay for those things you did,” Grandpa said.  “Maybe I did something wrong.”  This was his explanation on why she died before him.  It made me so sad to hear him say this.  I remember how desolate he was without her.  (See Autumn Leaves blog link below.)

My cousin asks questions. Some Grandpa answers.  But he made his point.  He loves his family.  “I accomplished my mission.  I would have my own home.  And I did more than that,” he said.  He got to see four of his five grandchildren marry.  He saw the arrival of six of his eight great grandchildren.

Before he ended the tape, he sang one last song.  He sang of traveling the world, always  wishing he could go home and kiss the stones where he was born.  My cousin asked if he would want to go back to Austria.

His answer, Yes and No. (Grandpa told me that he never wanted to go back there.)

Hearing my Grandpa talk about his family; his children, and his grandchildren was bittersweet.  I made CDs for my siblings and cousins.  I think they need to have this experience as well.

https://zicharonot.com/2016/06/06/the-mysterious-kalsbad-photos-who-are-they/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/06/25/how-world-war-i-saved-my-family-or-my-grandpa-was-a-draft-dodger/

https://zicharonot.com/2015/02/23/the-melody-of-autumn-leaves-haunts-me/

https://zicharonot.com/2017/12/04/the-us-passport-a-matter-of-life/

https://zicharonot.com/2016/08/02/a-chair-a-baby-grand-piano-and-yiddish-songs/

Making Music On St Maarten Is Magical

7 Jun

Listening to an expert on the steel drum. He was amazing.

Yesterday in St Maarten we decided to go on a different type of tourist adventure. We have been on this island several times and had no desire to tour around the island or go shopping. But we did find the perfect experience. We learned to play steel pan drums.

A tour from our cruise ship went to the school run by Dow’s Musical Foundation. There we experienced the Caribbean music of the steel pan drums and practiced with a group to actually play a song on the drums.

Who knew there were several types of drums?  Well there are: tenor, bass and one in between. Some are for the melody, others to hold the beat. Most of the drums comes in sets of two. There are two octaves, but the notes are devided between the two drums. Except for the base.  Those playing the base had to play on five different and much bigger drums.

A magical moment playing the steel pan drums!

At first I was a little slow. But eventually I got into the beat with the help of one of the teachers (who is from Kentucky!).

Going back and forth between the two drums was a bit confusing at first, but soon my brain caught up and my hands used the drum sticks. It was sort of like playing the hammered dulcimer. A gentle snap of the hand to get the best sound!

But the highlights was a short performance by one of the school’s founders. His passion for the music, his sense of rhythm and his joy were contagious and amazing. We then had the opportunity to listen to a group of school children as they preformed a song. These were students from one of the schools who take music lessons there.


Over 1100 students have the opportunity to learn music. To support the foundation, we purchased a cd adding a liitle extra.

It was worth it to see the smiles on the children’s faces as they focused on their playing, on their instructors and us.

I am so glad we took the opportunity to do something different and put a little musical magic in our lives!

The Melody of “Autumn Leaves “ Haunts Me

23 Feb

IMG_2370

Bob Dylan recorded Johnny Mercer’s Autumn Leaves for his new album, “Shadows in the Night”! This song has been haunting me since 1981! But now Bob Dylan is singing it, too!

My history with this song is driven by emotion. So to hear Bob Dylan’s rendition of it on the radio while I was driving somewhat stunned me. Luckily I was close to home and was able to pull into my garage. Yes, the song has that big of an impact on me! I even sent a text message to my sister and husband about it. They know my issues with the song.

My Grandma Thelma passed away from a massive stroke in 1981. I flew in from Kansas just in time to see her once more. She could not talk to me when I came to the hospital. But when I bent over her, she grabbed me with her good arm and pulled me closer. She then licked her hand and rubbed her kisses on my face. She could no longer really move her lips, even though she wanted to kiss me.

I felt her love. I knew that she was near death. I was glad I was able to see her once more.

She died that night. I think she was waiting for me to come. I was the one to tell my grandfather.

After her funeral in New Jersey, my parents, my grandfather and I drove back to the Catskills together where Grandpa and Mom would be sitting shiva at my grandparent’s home. It was August, and everyone was up in the mountains for the summer. It made sense to be where all their friends could visit with Grandpa.

The song haunts me.

All during the way, the long drive back to Kauneonga Lake, it seemed for the entire two hours, my Grandpa Nat sang Autumn Leaves. He told us that Grandma and he had made a vow to sing that song when the other passed away. It was their favorite song. In reality, I am sure he did not sing the entire trip, but it felt as if he did.

We did not notice the beautiful scenery along the way. We did not notice the landmarks that usually mark our journey. We listened to my grandfather sing. He had a beautiful voice. He sang and sobbed. My mother and I sobbed with him. I honestly do not know how my Dad drove. The words and melody were etched into my heart. For weeks it echoed in my mind.

The song continued to haunt me.

Years later a movie came out called, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” It’s sound track featured songs by Johnny Mercer, including Autumn Leaves.

I have never seen this movie. I did not want to hear that song.

But one day, while my husband and I were in the movie theater waiting to see another show, I began to feel sick to my stomach.

“I don’t know what is wrong,” I told my husband. “But I really don’t feel well. I feel like something horrible is going to happen. I think we have to leave.”

“It is the song,” he said. He knew about my issue with Autumn Leaves. “They are playing the melody of Autumn Leaves. Why don’t you leave the theater for a few minutes.”

I left, and came back when the song was over. My feeling of dread disappeared and I relaxed once I knew why I felt sick. I was really amazed by how my mind, my unconscious mind, could relate so strongly to a song, while my conscious mind was unaware that it was impacting my emotions.

However, in a way, the sound track to “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” helped me. For a few months the song was playing all the time on the radio. I started to be able to hear the melody without crying. Eventually I could also listen to the words without crying. I still felt an ache in my heart when I heard it, but I realized that this song was a commentary on my grandparents love for each other.

My Mother’s birthday is this week. Perhaps it is fitting that I have heard Autumn Leaves a few days before my Mom’s birthday. Perhaps it is fitting that Bob Dylan is singing this song. I have loved Bob Dylan’s music for my entire life. I still remember the first time I heard him sing Pete Seeger’s, “Where have all the Flowers Gone.”

I know that the melody and lyrics of Autumn Leaves will always haunt me. Even though I can now listen to the song without that awful feeling of dread, or thinking something horrible will happen, I still feel that ache. I remember that trip back to the Catskills. I envision memories of my grandparents and parents whenever I hear it. And whenever autumn leaves begin to fall, I feel my loved ones’ spirits close to me.

 

 

 

 

http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/j/johnny_mercer/autumn_leaves.html

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gnp58oepHUQ&list=PL1012F30BBCC1BEE9&index=4

 

http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/autumn-leaves

 

Ballroom Dancing: Relaxation, Reflection and Exercise

3 May

Dancing the Fox Trot is the most difficult for me. It is not because of the tempo or the moves. I think Rumba and Cha Cha are more intricate. East and West Coast Swing are quicker. Tango and Waltz are more elegant. The problem with Fox Trot is the music.   The music breaks my heart.

My husband and I have been taking ballroom dance lessons for almost ten years. We are finally at the point where I feel comfortable dancing in public and believe we know what we are doing.   When the right music plays, I sway with the beat.

We move to the dance floor and just relax into the music and the enjoyment of dance. As we are dancing, usually I forget everything going on and just focus on the mood of the dance. At the same time, we realize that we are getting our exercise for the day, as every part of our body is involved in the dance.

Recently we were on a cruise and danced every night. The dance band was marvelous. There were five or six other couples who also enjoyed ballroom dancing. It was wonderful fun.   We danced every dance in our repertoire: Tango, Rumba, Cha Cha, West Coast Swing, East Coast Swing, Waltz, Two-step, and Fox Trot.

My parents dancing at a cousin's wedding in Israel.

My parents dancing at a cousin’s wedding in Israel.

But I often mess up the Fox Trot. I get distracted, off beat, or forget a step. My reason: the music — those classic American songbook songs — make me tear up. If I hear Begin the Beguine, by Cole Porter, I see my parents swaying. I hear the words, Embraceable You, by the Gershwin brothers, and I only see my parents dancing.   Add Summertime by George Gershwin, and that is my final straw. My Dad loved Gershwin music. I grew up listening to Porgy and Bess and Rhapsody in Blue. When a band plays any of his songs, and a few other composers as well, I sometimes find it almost impossible to dance.

My parents loved to dance. My Dad would put out his arm and sing the words, “When Frances Dances with me, Golly Gee. Oh How Happy I’ll be.” (He changed the words a bit.) Sometimes they would dance. And sometimes we would all laugh, because my Dad could not sing well at all. But that melody I know. It was my Dad’s anthem for my Mom and how he loved her.   (The Francis in the song was a guy. But since my Mom’s name was Frances, it worked just dandy.)

In the summertime, they would go out on Saturday nights to one of the big hotels in the Catskills for a show and dance. We knew where they went because they would bring home those little viewers on a keychain. When looking in the eye piece, we could see our parents in their ‘fancy’ clothes. I knew they probably had an excellent time away from us, and dancing arm in arm, and cheek to cheek.

Family events were another big dancing time. They did not like the wild music at the bar and bat mitzvahs, or the line dances. But when the band played ballroom music, my parents always danced. They loved going to weddings, not just for the emotions of the event, but because there was always great dance music.

Dancing swing at our nephew's wedding.

Dancing swing at our nephew’s wedding.

My husband also loves weddings for the music. He dances with me. But when I get tired, he dances with our daughter, all of our nieces, my sister-in-law. Any woman who wants to dance can have a turn with my partner. Just be aware, he is a very enthusiastic dancer!

When my parents passed away just nine months apart, I could barely dance. It seemed wrong to be on a dance floor trying to do something fun. I should just be grieving, not dancing.   I stopped dancing the Fox Trot. I honestly could not listen to that music without bursting into tears.

But slowly my attitude changed. My parents loved to dance. They would be so happy to know that I was dancing. And each dance is a memory of them. “When we are out together dancing cheek to cheek, I’m in heaven,” thinking that my parents are dancing with each other Cheek to Cheek (by Irving Berlin) as well.

These wonderful songs deserve to be heard and danced to by people who love to dance. As I twirl about the floor with my husband, in our not so totally graceful moves, my mind sees my parents dancing at family events, or even in our living room, always smiling and laughing.

When my Dad died, we placed a photo of the two of them dancing with him so they could always be together. And whenever I dance the Fox Trot, I feel them next to me…dancing forever cheek to cheek in a wonderful embrace.

I hope we have passed the love of dancing to our children. I know my daughter loves it. She has taken lessons as well. I do not think she understands the memories of the music. But she holds the beat and the rhythm of the songs when she dances. And I know that wherever my parents are they are as happy as can be, knowing the love of dancing continues.

And for me, ballroom dancing brings me relaxation, reflection and exercise, the perfect combination for a hobby to share with my husband.

 

 

Music lyrics:

http://www.stlyrics.com/songs/g/georgegershwin8836/embraceableyou299722.html

 

http://www.stlyrics.com/songs/c/coleporter5950/beginthebeguine235309.html

 

http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/g/george_gershwin/summertime.html

 

http://www.sheetmusicbackinprint.com/popular/whenfrancis.html