Desert Island Music

Lakshadweep, comprising tiny low-lying islands...
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If you were stranded on a desert island, what ONE “album” would you want to have with you?  I’m always interested in the answer to this question, so please do leave your responses in the commments.

SO let’s assume that my iPod also made it to the desert island, and that it had a solar charger on it.  Because, frankly, just having an album on a desert island would be the equivalent of having a frisbee and a bunch of fuzzy musical memories.

I could actually be happy without a recording — if I had had a large ziplock bag that would keep a musical score safe and dry, I could be happy with just the Barenreiter edition of the Mass in B Minor by J. S. Bach.  I remember a peak experience performing it when I was in college, and just looking at the music would bring it all back.  If I could have a recording of it, I would choose the 1970’s Deutsche Grammophon recording by the Concentus Musicus Wien, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.  The recording quality is luminous, the temp are sparkling and based on  the most contemporary research in performance practice of the period, and the performance is flawless.  Recording of score, there is so much glorious musical material there, such craftsmanship, such invention, such pathos, that I never tire of it.  I might be cheating, because as I recall this actually took three LP’s — but hey.  It was “an album.”  ANd it’s my alternate reality.

If I were limited to one disc, and if it had to be a pop album, I would choose the BeatlesSergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Plenty of innovation there, as well.  The emotional and thematic arc traces through just the right balance of optimism and fatalism.

Both of these recordings — whether I am on a pop island or a classical island — have enough novelty to sustain interest over many listenings.  I can also sing along with each, requiring an exercise of memory and sequencing that would keep my mental processes sharp.  Music changes your brain — listening to it, making it, reading it — music changes you for the better.

I think I could be happy with that music, waiting, washing my clothes, getting a tan, and scanning the horizon.

Am I stranded all alone, or am I stranded with one other person?  Or stranded with a small group, like on Gilligan’s Island, or a large group, like Survivor? The best of all musical worlds would be that we have assembled a variety of favorite desert island music.  I’d spend less time with the heavy metal and gangsta rap enthusiasts, but I would welcome the opportunity to learn about and understand music tht I might not choose for myself.

As I was progressing through my school years, it was at the time when memorization was deemed to be a waste of time, or irrelevant.  As a result, most people of my generation never had the experience of committing anything to memory.  Now that we have devices with unlimited memory, readily accessible and virtually incorruptible, we have even less reason or occasion to remember anything for ourselves.  I was in a marginalized group, however, who did need to memorize stuff.  I was involved in theatrical productions, and choir performances, and solo voice and piano recitals — all of which required the memorization of lines, words, music.

Social being that I am, being stranded is a fantasy of hell on earth.  However, I am an only child.  I grew up with long stretches of solitude, and with no siblings to torture or demand entertainment value from, I had to be satisfied with amusements of my own creation.  I developed an imagination, and I retained the basics of what I saw and read so that I could “replay” those experiences when I was alone.  Much of what a memorized at a very early age is still accessible in a moment, as near as the next breath. I count myself lucky that I still have access to vast “files” of memory in my brain:  poems in English, French, German, and Italian, from my training as a classical singer; practically the whole Bible, by virtue of many years singing excellent music in beautiful churches that valued fine music; musical theater and operas that I performed or conducted; and a store of family folklore, received wisdom and anecdotes accumulated in aggregate over many generations.  I can create new ideas easily, partly because I am familiar with and have access to so much that I have memorized.  I actually can survive without a TV or radio, since I can recreate so many experiences in my imagination by virtue of my memory.  Memory is fluid and selective.  As you use it, it gets better.  Memory is the vast internal “reference library” from which we create NEW.

My practice of the Feldenkrais Method has also improved my ability to remember, and my ability to create.  Each lesson is constructed like a musical theme and variations. The end is never the end, just a stopping point.  You can always find more to explore and be curious about from within your own inventiveness, experience, and willingness to explore.  If I were stranded on a desert island, I would do everything I could to move, think, sense, and feel in new ways each day. Music, and movement, has always helped me connect with who I am.


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