THE BARD, or some old-timer, told us that music had the power to tame the savage beast, or breast, or something like that. Whoever told us that never sat in his car in traffic and felt his heart palpitate from the thump-thump-thump of the speaker system in a vehicle 20 feet away. Such noise does not tame; it enrages—at least it enrages me. Do I inflict Pavarotti or Beethoven on the uninterested? They probably would think the one a sports car and the other a Saint Bernard.
My progression in music—a reference that presumes “progress”— is the case before us. My earliest memories—late 30s, early 40s—are of my father playing guitar and singing “All Around The Water Tank” in imitation of Jimmy Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman, a.k.a, the founder of commercial country music. That is where I started in my musical progression—listening to my daddy sing, and with him, to Roy Acuff on the Grand Old Opry. Such music was called “hillbilly,” a pejorative with malice aforethought.
THAT PHASE lasted until my high school years, when I thought Bill Haley invented Rock-and-Roll when I heard him and the Comets perform “Rock Around The Clock” in a movie. I knew not then of the pioneering role of Buddy Holly, thought I knew much about The Big Bopper, of “Chantilly Lace” fame, who died with Buddy in the crash of their airplane. The “Bopper” was really J.P. Richardson, disk jockey for Radio KTRM in Beaumont, who played “easily listening” from ‘nine ‘til midnight.” We didn’t even know J.P. could say “Hello, Baby,” until the world knew.
I hoped the Beatles would go home to Liverpool and leave us alone, but have since changed my mind about them. The music of Lennon and McCartney, especially when played by full orchestra reaches even crusty souls. But I have not altered my view of most other English imports or American imitators who confuse smoke, strobe lights, bare skin, and noise with music. And I shall ignore rap, hip-hop, or gangstra, or whatever. It is not music. I know this from one of the precious moments of grandparenthood that came close to feeling as good as revenge. Granddaughter Kelly wanted the car radio tuned to play such music, and her father—himself a veteran of the rock n’ roll, admonished her, “Kelly, that is NOT music.” His mother and I collapsed.
IN THESE autumn days of life, I have come to appreciate the music my mother wished for me a half century ago when she brought me along to concerts of touring orchestras and opera performers. I did not understand it then, and still do not, but I can “feel” it now. It salves my soul. I do not embrace the “modern” composers much—someone playing a saw produces more pleasing sounds for me. But when Pavarotti reaches his high “C” or the oboe emerges again with the theme of “The New World,” I stop whatever I am doing, as must have God on the seventh day, and marvel at the creation of it.
Archie P. McDonald was a professor of history and Community Liaison at Stephen F. Austin State University. His commentaries were also featured each Friday morning on Red River Radio.