this is a musical education

In 1997, our family moved from Cupertino to Saratoga, to the Redwood-dotted purlieus of the Santa Cruz Mountains. We moved into a staid neighborhood of mainly older, white, rich folk. On a Saturday afternoon the first week we moved in, I remember kneeling in front of my bedroom window, which was low enough that I could see out of it like that, and staring out into our front yard. Out on the street, a dead-end road which was a concrete peninsula among towering houses, the seven-year-old boy who lived next door was having a birthday party where he paraded around on a full-sized horse (not just a pony!) with a convocation of family and friends trailing behind him. Now I envision him wearing a cape and a crown, an after-effect my memory imposes in the mere remembrance of something so grand and regal. I was jealous and wanted to ride the horse too.

Soon after, that neighboring family moved out. I never met the the horse-riding boy. But that meant there were no kids left in our neighborhood, and my sister and I occupied ourselves playing in the house, sometimes in our backyard, which, for the first five years of our living in Saratoga, was under construction and always mysteriously overrun by deer.

However, the neighborhood we lived in had a few redeeming factors that have become more pronounced as I've moved further away from it: it's peaceful, with a symphonic blend of cicadas, crickets, and coyote howls at night (which is the only sound I can fall asleep to... now I must wear earplugs every night); it's replete with trees and wildlife; hiking trails are merely walking distance; but perhaps what distinguished it from any other place I could have grown up was that it was well-positioned for a unique cultural education.

A couple decades ago, Villa Montalvo, which is now flourishing as the Montalvo Arts Center, with an artists residency program (and was even the site for the Lyft Silicon Valley launch party), was not much more than a pretty historic landmark built by James Duval Phelan, three-time mayor of San Francisco in 1912. Besides playing host to many photography shoots and weddings, Villa Montalvo had summer camps for kids (which I went to: it was a circus camp and it was there that I learned the art of making balloon animals) as well as weekly concerts with music that catered to the 50-and-over crowd.

If there was anything that most profoundly influenced my tastes in and appreciation for music, it was that my dad would drag me to these concerts, despite my then-lack of enthusiasm, and I'd have to sit and listen to these "old-timers" play music that seemed culturally irrelevant for me at the time, their not being The Backstreet Boys or Christina Aguilera.

The first concert my dad took me to was Al Jarreau, a jazz singer, who I now know won seven Grammy awards, but at that point in my life (I was seven), I don't think I even knew what a Grammy award was, and I definitely didn't know a thing about jazz. It's funny to think that my dad and I were receiving a cultural education in tandem: he, with his funny tastes in Jewish food, jazz, and Margaret Thatcher, was a black sheep among a sea of Silicon Valley Asian fathers; and as he was digging deeper into the music that satisfied his soul, he was pulling his young daughter along for the ride.

At the Al Jarreau show, I convinced my dad that we had to leave early: I wanted hot chocolate really badly.

Despite the hassle of taking a pesky and unknowing seven year old to jazz shows, which is not unlike bringing a finicky baby onto an airplane, my dad persisted, and we went to see a wide range of musicians I didn't know: Bruce Hornsby, Natalie Cole, The Go-Go's, Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, David Benoit, and Taylor Eigsti, among many others. Each show was a new discovery. Unlike going to concerts now, where I expect a familiar sound, the experience of going to these shows was like a blind tasting. At such a young age, my taste in music was a tabula rasa. I remember that by my early teens, I began enjoying these shows my dad took me to, able to sink deeply into foreign sounds; take them and make them my own, these sounds that were so different from what was on the radio, or what my classmates in school were listening to.

A curious thing happens when you're young and impressionable and soaking in a pond of cultural and aural stimuli. Those sounds and sights seep into your veins and begin to form the patchwork linings of the places and people and objects that you will gravitate towards for the rest of your life. Your first experiences of music and art preen your future experiences like a bird to its feathers, even if in a disembodied way; and those experiences are practically religious, though you won't be able to exegete your attractions and affinities with much satisfaction or logic. There are sounds that will make sense to you, and yet you will not be able to make sense of those sensibilities. But you will cling to those sensibilities and the beauty that sight and sound bring. One day, you'll be in the car, and your hand will unconsciously turn the radio dial to a station that makes most sense to you, the bum-bum-bum of the upright bass, the piano that spins and riffs in drunken delight...


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