The Gratitude Project: Music We’re Grateful For

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

This Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for: family, friends, and even in-laws. There's also music. As we prepare for another Thanksgiving holiday, WQXR reflects on Music We’re Grateful For.

Here's how you can participate: Leave a voice message on our spinvox line at 1-800-543-2543 or email your selections to gratitude@wqxr.org.

Explain why you're grateful for a particular piece of music. Did a Mendelssohn quartet make your wedding complete? Did a Bach partita help you cope with the loss of a loved one? Has Mahler been with you through an interminable air travel delay?

Tell us your story. Give us the full name of the piece, your first name and your neighborhood or city.

We’ll play your choices--and air your voices--all Thanksgiving Weekend. So call us, write us, and tune in!

Our hosts offer their selections:

Terrance McKnight:

A Flowering Tree is John Adams' latest opera. The story and the music acknowledge and celebrate our multicultural society and our common frailties and humanity. Because of that, future generations will continue to appreciate and identify with the art form. For that I'm grateful.

Midge Woolsey:

Imagine a world full of pianos with no one able to play them!  I’m grateful for talented pianists and Vladimir Horowitz was one of my favorites. His performance of Schumann’s Traumerei makes my heart ache with joy.

Elliott Forrest:

I am grateful for Mark O’Connor’s Appalachia Waltz. I was moved the first time heard it, was moved when I heard it played by a group of young amateur musicians and moved again when it was used as underscoring in the recent Ken Burns series about National Parks. It is a timeless piece of Americana.

Naomi Lewin:

The Circus Band March by Charles Ives makes me smile every time I hear it. Ives captured all the zest and joy of music-making in this piece, and also poked gentle fun at musicians who can't quite get it together. Clearly, Ives liked this march a lot, too, because he put it into quite a few of his compositions.

David Garland:

This year the album How Sad, How Lovely was released, and I'm very grateful for that. It's an album of songs by Connie Converse, who lived here in New York during the 1950s. Connie wrote touching, imaginative, smart, devastating, funny, subtle songs which weren't heard much beyond her small circle of friends. She disappeared in 1974, and her music might have disappeared then, too. But now everyone can listen, and it seems that wonderful music can eventually find interested ears.

From our listeners:

Meg, New York, New York:

One special piece of music I am grateful for is the Widor Toccata. It was played as the recessional at my parents' wedding in 1966, then again at my wedding in 1997 and at my cousins' weddings in 2001 and 2004. It's such a powerful, triumphant piece of music. And it has brought joy to my family and sent us on our married way over many years!

Eddie, Monroe Township, New Jersey:

I am thankful for the music of Johannes Ockeghem, a master of Renaissance polyphony who lived from (circa) 1410 to 1497. Ockeghem's music represents the essence of early Renaissance choral music - it is graceful, otherworldly, and serene, and never fails to calm me down whenever I am feeling stressed or anxious. Some of my favorite Ockeghem recordings are: Requiem; Missa Fors Seulement, Missa de plus en plus; 5 Motets, and Missa Mi-Mi.

Sharon, New York, New York:

I'm grateful for the Merry Widow Waltz (Lippen Schweigen). I've always loved this piece, so lyrical and evocative of lost love and love recaptured.  When I found out that this was also a favorite of my maternal grandfather, who died just before I was born, it made the music even more meaningful to me. It made it so clear, as well, how music speaks all languages - my grandfather lived all his life in what was then a small city in Peru; I've lived all my life in New York City and the same music spoke to both of us.

Ian, Brooklyn, New York:

Dvorak’s New World Symphony always leads me to think about nature and landscape with fresh eyes. Hearing that symphony moves me from nature’s vast cathedrals in the mountains to the stretching plains of the west.  I hear Native American chants and African American spirituals and Cowboy ditties. I see the vastness of the world, unfurled before my eyes. I am grateful for this wonderful gift, of being transported and moved far away by one beautiful piece of inspired traveling music.

Cage, New York, New York:

My first experience with grief was the death of John F. Kennedy. Shortly after his assassination, Leonard Bernstein led the New York Philharmonic in a live televised studio performance of Mahler's Second Symphony. It was transcendent. I was a kid and had never heard of Mahler, but in that hour and half, I learned the healing power of music. I asked my parents for a recording, which I still own. It started me on the road of a collector and made me a lifelong lover of Mahler. I'm grateful for literally hundreds of compositions, but the Resurrection Symphony forever holds a special place in my heart.

George, New York, New York:

In 1952, when I was 14 or 15, I went with a high-school friend to see The Marriage of Figaro at the Amato Opera Theater, which was then on Bleecker Street, a walking distance from my apartment.  The performance was in English.  I didn't know the plot, and all the surprises worked for me.  More importantly, the music thrilled me.  I bought the LP records, in Italian, of course, and listened every day for a year, following the libretto and the English translation.  At the end of the year I had learned a lot of Italian.  I decided I loved languages. I took French, Italian, German, and Latin in college, and I eventually entered graduate school and got a Ph.D. in linguistics.  Had it not been for The Marriage of Figaro, I might have spent my life selling apples at street corners.

Victoria, Passaic, New Jersey:

I always loved classical music, but hated opera (the singing, not the music). One day I saw a TV commercial for champagne, with an aria as the sound track. The singing was so beautiful, it made me stop in my tracks. I went to the Classical section of a large music store and described it to the salesman, who knew exactly what it was: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa singing "O Mio Babbino Caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. I purchased her CD featuring this and other arias. Not only did the loathing of opera turn into love, I took an opera appreciation course and became a regular season subscriber to the Metropolitan Opera for almost two decades. Even my husband got hooked on opera!

Harry, Brooklyn, New York:

I have long felt a special relationship with Mozart's G-Minor String Quintet, K516. It came up on the radio--WQXR, to be precise--on a day when I was preparing for a very difficult meeting with trustees of an organization I admired. The tumultuous Allegro seemed to sweep up all my doubts and concerns, the elegant Minuet put everything in order, the gorgeous Adagio calmed all my tensions, and "sunny Rondo," (as it's invariably described) sent me on my way full of hope.

In any event, this quintet, like the others, is absolutely mind-boggling, comparable in harmonic structure to the symphonies. With only five instruments, a great composer can show us a world of passion.

Steve, Bronx, New York:

My father died this past year at age 93.  He was a lifelong music lover and instilled that passion in me. Reflecting both his musical and political tastes, his two favorite musicians were Beethoven and Pete Seeger.  At his memorial last May, we sang the song that Pete wrote to the tune of "Ode to Joy."

Build a road of peace before us.  Build it wide and deep and long.
Speed the slow; remind the eager; help the weak and guide the strong.
None shall push aside the other; none shall let another fall
Work together sisters and brothers.   All for one and one for all.


I am grateful for Beethoven, Pete--and my father.

Anita, Brooklyn, New York:

I am grateful for Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony.  As a little girl, I would hear it in my head as I traveled to Manhattan on the  No. 7 train to school; Beethoven’s “Recollections of Country Life” became my memories of city life.

Frank, Ardsley, New York:

The one selection that speaks most about gratitude to me is Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring. The very moving adaptation of the Shaker theme, "The Gift to Be Simple," is so evocative of a way of life in the American experience long gone but which we yearn for, especially at Thanksgiving.

Adele, Secaucus, New Jersey:

On June 5, 1968, I attended a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.  It was the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated.  Spontaneously and in his memory, Prima Ballerina Maya Plisetskaya danced "The Dying Swan" to Camille Saint-Saens' music from XIII Movement from Le Carnaval aux Animaux and requested that there be silence, in other words, no applause at the end of her performance. It was a powerful tribute to Robert Kennedy as after she finished dancing, since you could hear a pin drop in a theater that seated 4,000 people that night. I was grateful to be in the audience that night and realized how the music and dance could communicate more than words could express.

Jordan, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:

I am grateful for the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un Faune by Debussy for its beautiful sounds and images; the Pastorale of Beethoven for its unparalleled link to nature; and Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev for the way he captured the exuberance of youth.

Peggy, New York, New York:

Whenever the Yankees won the World Series, my father would play the Eroica in commemoration, taking out his album of 78s and placing the records on our record player, the kind where the next record plopped down when the one before it was done. He did this first in my memory in 1947, and then again in 1949 and so forth. So, I am grateful for Beethoven's 3rd Symphony for bringing me warm memories of my dad and the Yankees of yore.

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