The first music I remember were camp songs. I learned, songs like Rock a my Soul, Michael Row your Boat Ashore, If I had a Hammer, This Land it your Land, and Blowin’ in the Wind. I really thought this was all Jewish music. It was many years before I learned these songs were American folk music and spirituals. After that, I got introduced to music from television. I hated any singer who used vibrato. The more vibrato, the more I disliked it. This included popular performers like Beverly Sills, Liza Minelli, and Bernadette Peters. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why they were popular. They sounded terrible. When I got older, I saw Liza and Bernadette live and suddenly understood why people loved them. They performed the shit out of songs. They were charming and connected to the audience. They interpreted the lyrics. They sang loudly and with passion and their vibrato was part of that performance. Upon seeing them in person, I loved them, and I finally understood their popularity. And I learned that not every performer comes across well in every medium.
As a young adult, my parents invited me to join them at an opera. They had season tickets and loved attending. I was sure I would hate it. However, I believe in trying things so I went, trying to keep an open mind while knowing in the depths of my soul that I would hate opera as much as I hated the warbling voices from my childhood television experiences. It turned out that I really enjoyed going to the opera. I ended up getting my own season tickets for a number of years. I found that there was always something that kept my interest. It might be a certain performer or two. It might be the music and orchestra. It might be specific arias. It could be the sets or the costumes or the grandeur. And when I felt like it, I would inhale deeply when a singer inhaled and exhale while they sang until they took another breathe. I could never make it. Although I played trumpet as a kid, I didn’t have that level of breath control. I still like going to the opera on occasion and I’m so glad Chicago has such a fine institution as the Lyric.
As I got older, I realized another great benefit of attending the opera. You can get great naps sitting in the audience. Opera is a deeper sleep nap than the symphony. There is no nap better than one you get during an opera. I have no idea why this is true. But it is fact. I never fall asleep in a play or a musical or a movie but for some reason, classical music, no matter how loud or dark or dissonant can put me to sleep. My big challenge is to sleep with total silence and no indications that I am, in fact, asleep, and not listening with great concentration. Snoring would be in terrible form. Even the occasional snort would disturb my neighbors. The upside of this pattern is that I wake up so refreshed. And then I pretend that I had been listening intently all along. I’ll tell you, tickets to classical music concerts are money well spent.