One day during the summer after fifth grade, a brown package arrived in the mail with my name neatly typed on a white label without a return address. Mother handed the package to me and asked if I knew what it was. I had no idea. I’d never before received a package in the mail addressed just to me and excitedly opened the flat, square package to discover a record in a black jacket with fiery red flashes across the cover.
“Did you send for this?” Mother asked.
When I told her no she searched the wrapping paper for a note or any clue as to who had sent it. Finding nothing, Mother shrugged, and I took my prize into the house to the record player. I’d heard the story of that record player many times. It seems that shortly after mom and dad were married they had won a radio/record player console. It was mother’s pride and joy–a piece of furniture she has kept all these years. But despite the care she took dusting and polishing it, I only remember her playing music on it maybe two or three times in my life. Mother always said she loved music, but for some reason she never took the time to turn it on. One of the compartments held the few records she and Dad owned which consisted of some big band, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, and Frank Sinatra albums. I loved music and had played those records over and over. I spent hours listening while imagining that inside that brown console thumb size people actually performed every time I started a record.
Alone in the family room, I carefully opened the jacket and pulled the brand new, shiny black record out. That was the first I read the jacket. Printed in large letters on top of the fiery streaks were the words “Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite/Rite of Spring.” I’d never heard of such a thing. Bursting with curiosity and anticipation, I lowered the record onto the spindle, “The Firebird Suite” side up, lifted the arm and placed the needle on the spinning record.
Soft, dark tones filled the room, their ominous sounds startling me. What was this? It wasn’t music. Music made you sway and dance. These sounds made you cower and weep. I stopped the record, turned it over, and put the arm down on the “Rite of Spring.”
A single wind instrument began, joined by another, and then more. I’d never heard anything like that before. Not as menacing, the music had an unearthly quality that made me think of gnomes, dwarfs, fairies and witches. And while it didn’t make me sway it definitely made me want to dance. I kept listening as the music took on a militant quality broken by swirling motion that evolved into a busy sound of majestic anticipation. Mom and Dad’s records were always so predictable. Once you’d heard the first three or four phrases, you’d heard the whole song. But this music was one surprise after another. The sounds melted into my muscles and I began to move stomping, twirling, leaping, tip-toeing, whatever the music told me to do, I did until I dropped to the floor breathless. About that time the frenzy of the Shrovetide Fair began and I closed my eyes to watch the fairies do the dancing.
On and on it went–much longer than “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” or anything else among the console’s records. The music grew loud and as ominous as “The Firebird Suite” but I was so enthralled that this time I liked it. I waited and sure enough bird like sounds broke into the heavy feeling flying in just when my heart thought it couldn’t take any more.
I didn’t like all of it. Some parts were frightening. Some too compelling. But when the record stopped spinning, I was spinning with delight. My head couldn’t stop thinking about the amazing music–how my body seemed one with it when I danced. Lifted out of the world, I’d gone someplace else without leaving the family room. I didn’t know where I’d gone, but I wanted to go back and explore to learn more about the magical place I’d just been.
After that day the big bands weren’t as big and Bing Crosby had lost some of his charm. Again and again I returned to the “Rite of Spring” and every time something new stirred in me. Every time it was just as magical. It was awhile before I was introduced to other friends such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Debussy, but upon meeting each one my love for music expanded deeper into my soul.
To this day I have no clue as to who sent me that record. But whoever my anonymous mentor was, he or she changed my life. She didn’t give me just a record. She gave me a whole new world. A world I still escape to when I need solace, comfort, or just a little rest