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  • Writer's pictureSharon Michalove

Music Memories

La Traviata, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2013

Max, the hero of my forthcoming book, At First Sight, finds listening to music painful. He was very close to his cousin, Guy, a composer and musician. When Guy died at the age of thirty, Max cut music from his life.

For Cress Taylor, music gets her through the day. She usually listens to classical music when she writes and Ralph Vaughn Williams is one of her favorite composers. Certain pieces of popular music have strong meanings for her as well. In Max and Cress' second book, At the Crossroads, to be published in 2022, Cress is reminded of Del Shannon's "Runaway" when she thinks back to her feelings as a teenager. Another meaningful song for her, and for me, is "If Today Was Your Last Day" by Nickelback.

Connecting with Cress has meant that music is now back in Max's life, whether he likes it or not. The link with the picture above is a short video from the performance of La Traviata that they would have seen in 2013 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, starring Cress' favorite tenor, Joseph Calleja. Max's experience is a crucial scene in the book.

When the last act is announced, I trail in after her. In the now-darkened auditorium, I shift and bounce my knee. Cress rests her hand on my bicep. Her touch calms me for the moment.

As the action moves inexorably to what must be Violetta’s inevitable death, I fidget more and more. She begins singing “Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti,” which translates as Farewell, lovely, happy dreams of the past. I choke and run out of the hall."

Max Grant, At First Sight

I was just listening to Handel’s ” Hallelujah Chorus” on Classic FM. And it reminded me of my first experience singing the piece. I was in chorus my freshman year in high school and we did the traditional “Messiah” Christmas concert. My parent were not only in attendance, they sat in the first row. As is the custom, everyone stood as we got started. But my parents didn’t know or understand the standing tradition. They got up with everyone else. And then, after a minute or two, they looked around at all the people standing, shrugged their shoulders, and sat down. Of course I could see them—front row, remember. I was just fourteen, and absolutely mortified, as you are when you are a teenager and you feel your parents are reflecting badly on you. These days, I laugh when I remember my over-the-top reaction.

“King George II stood during the “Hallelujah” chorus… or maybe not An often repeated legend about Messiah tells the story of King George II who was so moved by the “Hallelujah” chorus during the London premiere of Messiah that he rose to his feet and then everyone in attendance followed suit as not to be sitting when the king stood. Thus we believe the regularly debated tradition of standing during the “Hallelujah” chorus came to be — also giving birth to countless passive-aggressive battles of concert decorum between the sitters and standers. However, according to various experts, there is no truth to this story. In fact there is no evidence King George II was even in attendance, and it is unlikely the newspaper writers that were in the audience would have overlooked mentioning a royal presence. The first reference to this story was a letter written 37 years after the fact. Just where that leaves us in the annual stand-versus-sit showdown though is still very much up for debate.”

My husband, Peter, "lost" music in the last months of his life. Why that connection was severed is still a mystery but he felt the loss keenly. For a man who had music running through his head twenty-four hours a day, having it suddenly stop was a huge loss. He could no longer make sense of what he heard.

On the other hand, when my mother was in the last stages of Alzheimer's music, particularly the music of Glenn Miller and songs from musicals, were the last memories to stick with her.

When you hear a particular piece of music, does it bring up memories of the past? Happy times. Painful experiences? Just remember, music has power.

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