Music has always been a huge inspiration for me, and an important part of my life. One of my earliest memories involves singing the hell out of La Bamba on my front porch at the age of 5 (see the full memory of that story in blog form soon).
I was very fortunate to go to a school where music was part of the curriculum. One of the best things for me was a program called Music Memory, which was actually a competition (and oh how I love a competition). We would listen to pieces of classical music: Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, etc. And we’d have to be familiar with the full piece we were studying, as well as able to identify the composer’s name, name of the piece, year it was written. We’d have these competitions where they’d play an obscure 30 second section of one piece and we’d have to recognize it and write down the info.
Looking back it seems a bit of a strange way to get kids into music but it worked for me. When I was old enough I took up violin (which I played for 10 years and still hope to pick up again) and to this day I love orchestral and symphonic music.
One of my favorite pieces from that program, and one that I have always had a huge emotional reaction to, is In The Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt, by Grieg. Took me many years to put together that this was actually incidental music for a play by Henrik Ibsen (and clearly if you’ve heard the song, it does not sound like incidental music!).
Gaye Stearnes, my elementary school music teacher, often encouraged us to close our eyes when listening to music for the first time. I still remember that the minute this piece came on I had a story in my head: a man was walking up a narrow path through woods, up a hill or mountain. And every once in a while he would look back down behind him on the path. Listening, I saw this all very cinematically. Sometimes when the man looked back, he would briefly see a troll’s head poking out behind a tree, watching him. As he went higher, the troll got slowly closer. (Dude thinking of this while listening to the music still gives me chills). And as the music sped up, so did the chase until finally the man was sprinting uphill, running for his life. He finally came to a small clearing where the path out was blocked and he had to turn to face the troll, during the big huge choral sequence at the end of the song.
Honestly I don’t remember how this vision ended. I just remember the chase. At any rate, ever since that moment, this piece of music has been a huge part of my artistic DNA. It’s one of the pieces I go back to over and over whenever I feel stuck. It’s so sharp, it’s so dynamic, it’s so emotional and so exciting. Pretty much any time I’ve felt stuck, I’ll pull this out and a listen or two will get me out of my funk. Love it.