Music to Wake Up By

This morning before getting up, I heard this piano piece called “Silhouette: Op. 8” by Antonin Dvorak. I had not heard it until now, and I just thought it was pretty:


Cinema Paradiso Reflections

Cinema Paradiso (1988) is my favorite foreign film, and one of my favorite films ever. It’s about a young Sicilian boy, Salvatore, and his lifelong love of the movies. He eventually grows up to be a famous film director. It’s also his coming-of-age story.

One of my former bosses told me about it, describing how much the film had moved him. I was skeptical. The few foreign films I had seen up to that point I didn’t like at all. One day he came back to the office after a meeting, handed me a free movie pass and said, “Here. I want you to see Cinema Paradiso. You never take a break, so take the afternoon off and enjoy.” I went the next afternoon, and loved it! I thanked him profusely for the movie pass, and it was the latest of many lessons in always taking time to smell the roses. Eventually I bought the video, and I still watch it whenever the mood strikes me. In 2005 or thereabouts, my aunt and I went to a Washington, DC theater to see the director’s extended cut. That version left an even bigger lump in my throat, but it was an even more satisfying story. Ennio Morricone wrote the music for the film. It is by turns, happy, wistful, joyous, sad, haunting, and everything in between.

The other night, I was listening to a podcast episode of Dr. Mark Malkovich’s program, “My Music,” on Rhode Island’s classical station Classical 95.9 WCRI FM. The program featured the music of pianist John Bayless, who covers many modern songs in a stylish, dignified way. He included the love theme from Cinema Paradiso on one of his CDs. Dr. Malkovich included that version on the program, and I kept playing it over and over. I  hadn’t realized how much I missed the tune. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Grooveshark lists more than 150 recordings of the melody; I listened to a few. Josh Groban sings the Italian version of the song on one of his newer CDs. Yo-Yo Ma has recorded an instrumental version.

I also went to YouTube. The first video is Ennio Morricone conducting, and a pianist playing the well-known melody. The second is a Polish orchestra performing a version for strings. Below these, I also include the English translation of the song. I don’t know which interpretation I like better.

Cinema Paradiso

If you were in my eyes for one day
You could see the full beauty of the joy
I find in your eyes
And it isn’t magic or loyalty

If you were in my heart for a day
You would have an idea
Of what I feel
When you hold me strongly to you
Heart to heart,
Breathing together

Protagonist of your love
I don’t know if it’s magic or loyalty

If you were in my soul for a day
You would know what is inside me
That I fell in love
At that instant, together with you
And what I sense
It’s only love.

As I reflect on the film, I think about how movies connect people, as pastime, entertainment, as a gathering place, as a shared memory. And I think about how nothing ever stays the same. I guess it’s never supposed to. “The only thing we can count on in this life is change,” another boss always told me. The theater where I first saw the film has closed, and much about the area is different now. I’ve gone through my own unpredictable career ride, friends have come and gone, and these two former bosses have since passed away. I miss them a lot.

But still, good things have happened to me in the years since, in spite of the challenges. I will concentrate on those.

Clair de Lune

As I mentioned, I’m participating in PostADay 2011. The first two themes don’t seem to fit a music blog very well. I did enjoy “Clair de Lune” the other night by Claude Debussy. The concert pianist who founded the SignMyPiano podcast was finally able to buy a Steinway, and ‘Clair de Lune” was the latest selection that he performed.

I came across the poem “Clair de Lune” by Paul Verlaine, in English translation, and decided to set it down here:


Your soul is like a landscape fantasy,
Where masks and Bergamasks, in charming wise,
Strum lutes and dance, just a bit sad to be
Hidden beneath their fanciful disguise.

Singing in minor mode of life’s largesse
And all-victorious love, they yet seem quite
Reluctant to believe their happiness,
And their song mingles with the pale moonlight,

The calm, pale moonlight, whose sad beauty, beaming,
Sets the birds softly dreaming in the trees,
And makes the marbled fountains, gushing, streaming–
Slender jet-fountains–sob their ecstasies.

And here’s Debussy’s music:

At the Steinway Store

I knew from an early age that I would never play an instrument because I can’t use my left hand properly. But that never stopped me from being curious about music and enjoying listening to it. One instrument I always liked was the piano.

My earliest memory of a piano was the toy piano I received for Christmas at the age of three. My mom taught me to play a tune like merry-go-round music. She had no formal training; she just picked it out on the keys. Another favorite memory was during kindergarten. On a rainy day, one of the teachers noticed me banging on the keys, listening to each one’s sound. She stood behind me, guiding my right hand as we played “Frere Jacques.” It seemed like magic. She also explained how the pedals at the bottom helped to change the sound of the notes. Here’s a better, more technical explanation:

I have always been short; I knew my feet would never reach them. But I could freely imagine performing with gusto at a concert hall–either solo or with an orchestra.

Here are the lyrics to “Frere Jacques” in French and English, from Wikipedia. I had almost forgotten them:

Frère Jacques, frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!
Din, dan, don. Din, dan, don.

The song is traditionally translated into English as:


Sheet music version

Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John,
Morning bells are ringing! Morning bells are ringing!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

Later, when I was about eight or nine, my family and I visited other relatives out of state. At the time, my cousin had a piano in the living room. I looked at some of the music books, imagining what each of the markings meant. I asked her to play for me, and she did. If memory serves, it was a waltz. Everyone gathered to listen. Sadly, she gave it up a few years later.

Our former neighbors across the hall had a daughter who studied piano and was very talented. Sometimes we were lucky enough to hear her practice when she came home from school.

A favorite pastime at the mall when I was a kid was going into Kitts Music to admire and try out the organs–the kind that everyone could teach themselves to play. I would eventually get one for the Christmas, and I had great fun playing it and learning the popular songs, show tunes, Christmas carols, and hymns in the music books. My only trouble was that I was too slow and often couldn’t quite get the actual rhythm and tune. To their credit and endless patience, no one in my family ever complained or ran for earplugs.

That tendency to go into a music store and admire the instruments dies hard. It probably will never leave me. When my aunt and I were at the mall a couple of months ago doing errands and getting haircuts, I asked if I could go into the Steinway Store while she finished up. “Sure,” she said. “But just don’t buy one.” We both laughed; times have been difficult in this economy. I tried to interest her last year in a PBS documentary about making Steinways, but we chose another program. Off I went. The first thing I saw was a beautiful cherry wood grand piano with a carved filigreed music stand and intricate carvings on the sides. The keys were tied–only undone if you were an actual customer. I ran my fingers gently over the ivory keys, noticing how soft each was. I didn’t bother anyone there; I looked around at the photos of the many celebrities who use Steinways–including Lang Lang and Billy Joel. I also enjoyed listening to potential customers play for a bit, and then I slipped away and went to meet my aunt for lunch.

Today on “Classical Music Discoveries” podcast, I enjoyed the piano performances of Elizabeth Wolff, who is also a teacher.

I have actually trained all my life on other types of keyboards–typewriters and computers. I’m not sure if the words that come out are music to anyone reading them, but I try.

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