Pandora is an amazing thing. Yes, I'm the last person in the world to know this. It's radio that doesn't suck. It's randomly wonderful. I keep finding new songs I really love, I can torment my son with '80s hair metal, and he makes me listen to "top hits" that make my teeth hurt.

I had it set on the classical station for a while today as I did other things. What came out was a piece of my youth.

Once upon a time I played the cello. Badly. I played for seven years and never got any better, but that was okay, because I loved it so much. I played in the Springfield Youth Symphony Orchestra in Springfield, Mass. and my favorite piece was the farandole.

I didn't know WHICH farandole, mind you. Only that it was an astounding piece of music and I barely could keep up with the cello part. I found it once on an audiocassette and played it incessantly - something about its soaring melodies and remarkable harmonies spoke to me. Then I lost the audiocassette, and it vanished from my mind.

You see where this is going.

Tonight as I was composing work emails, Pandora suddenly began playing a farandole. THAT one. I scrabbled for the iPhone as though it were spouting molten chocolate and immediately hit "buy on iTunes." Alas, no hits found.

But I bookmarked the track and immediately wrote down the name I had been missing all these years: Georges Bizet, Carmen L'Arlesienne, Suites 1 & 2. Mix in the word "farandole" and I found it, performed by the London Festival Orchestra.

It's hard to explain what a piece of music like this can mean to me. To me it's all the energy of youth and love of music and the runaway optimism of a boundless horizon tempered with the occasional strain of darkness, stealing its way through the soaring melodies. A little shadow with the light.

I grew up with the sound of my mother's piano drifting up through the floorboards from the music studio. A classically trained musician, she performed at Carnegie and Tanglewood and directed choirs before the Queen of England and President Bush I. My sister and I made up our fantasy stories with the soundtrack of Mom's piano dancing downstairs. My childhood was set to Beethoven and Bach, Haydn and Mozart.

To this day, when I find it difficult to focus on what I'm writing for the newspaper - or especially when it needed to be really good today - I'd turn on something classical. Wordless and operatic at the same time, usually a symphony. Sometimes vocal work, something in another language so my wordsmith brain wouldn't try to pick up on it. When I worked in an office this annoyed my coworkers, so I discovered earbuds pretty quick. Some people just don't appreciate the arts.

Now I listen to Bizet, whom I never really held in much regard before, and it is with new ears. It makes me want to dance, an aesthetically displeasing prospect to be sure, but I dare you to find this piece and not want to dance. Perhaps it won't work for you. Perhaps you have to be twelve years old and overwhelmed by emotion held between the staves, to know that the power and beauty of this sound is beyond your capability to create, only to recognize. Salieri before Mozart.

There was a plaque that hung in my bedroom as a girl, one that I kept with me through most of my ill-fated attempts at music. It read:

Bach gave us God's word.
Mozart gave us God's laughter.
Beethoven gave us God's fire.
God gave us music that we might pray without words.


  1. This is too weird! It was just playing on my TV light classics music station as I read!! I, too, grew up with classical music playing a lot and I completely understand how it can transport us to our past. I remember playing the L'Arlesienne Suites LP a lot. Same age, so I can't really say how much is the age, but guessing by how baroque music swept me away similarly at age 38 or so, age is only a small part of it. It's the music!



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