The Right Tunes

My daughter is an accomplished equestrian, her particular skill being in the discipline called dressage. When the Dressage World Cup was to be held in Las Vegas, we gassed up the truck and headed west. The best of the best of the best—horses and riders—were gathered in one place, and for once that place wasn’t Europe.

Suffice it to say, Las Vegas took this aging country girl aback. There’s the next thing to pornography for sale at the bus stops and slot machines abound in the Laundromats. The casinos are designed with an obscene genius for parting customers from their money. You cannot walk from your room to your car without passing every eatery, gambling den, and ticket master in the building. I’m told in the casinos proper, they pipe in extra oxygen to keep you energized and feeling fine while you drop your cash.

This is not the whole of the town, of course. Like any city, Las Vegas has its charm, I’m sure. On this trip, though, staying in a hotel on The Strip. I saw no charm. I saw throngs of people who’d come great distances to very likely lose money gambling while they spent money to stay where they could gamble. Internet access was exorbitant, room service was worse, and if you so much as touched the goodies in the fridge, your credit card was charged (I’m not kidding).

The time spent watching the horses go was wonderful, but I kept thinking, “All these international athletes are going to think this is the sum total of America. My kid is going think this is what a city is like. If ever there was a place I where I do not fit in, and do not want to fit in, THIS IS IT.”

I was in a swivet. Beloved Offspring, however, was just taking it all in. When she asked if we could walk The Strip around 10 pm one night, I could not refuse—lest she go on her own.

More crowds, more lights, more crawling traffic, more conspicuous consumption. Not my scene, my scene, not my scene at all… and then the blighted mooin’ crowd came to a halt. Bother. Bother and a half. We were outside some casino was a fake lake in front of it, all lit up with fake lights.

Bah, humbug. I was about to tell the child we were going back to the blasted hotel when I heard a few notes of quiet piano music.

Huh? I love the piano. I loved that piece…. Fountains appeared in the middle of the lake. The lights changed colors, and the orchestra came in to twine around the piano. All thoughts of leaving, of being able to leave that spot, flew from my head as a full orchestra version of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini wafted up into the night. The crowd went silent, mesmerized by the play of water and lights through the entire piece.

If you ever have a chance to see the fountains at the Bellagio do their thing, don’t miss it. In the space of one short piece of music, I went from being a grouchy, resentful tourist, to a woman enraptured. Somebody had done something beautiful with one of my keeper tunes, and I was helpless to resist its magic.

Our music, our personal playlist, is that powerful. It becomes an anthem for our identity, a refuge and a consolation. Whether it’s “our song,” the national anthem, your kid’s first recital piece, or your favorite hymn, there are pieces of music that form a soundtrack for who you are.

Some of my others: “My Funny Valentine,” the Chopin Nocturnes, Blondie’s “The Tide Is High,” Dave Brubeck’s Time Out Album, Wham’s “Wake Me Up,” and on and on and on…

So what are yours?

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35 comments on “The Right Tunes

  1. This topic has been on my mind a lot recently. I’ve been using my technology (I have a tablet) to bring music back into my life. I grew up with music: sang in the choir, played in band, and had a relative that played in a jam band. I think because of this some of
    my favorite make my soul happy tunes are usually folksy guitar songwriters like Ani Difranco and Dave Matthews. I like to write poetry so lyrics mean a lot to me. Lyrical melodies are especially nice and I’ve found a few new favorites recently. I found a tune from a favorite artist that makes me think of love stories and romance (kind of scary that it has the word “hearse” in it) but it’s a joyful tune with wonderful language. (

    That is Ani Difranco “Hearse”, “Both Hands”, “You had Time”
    Dave Matthews Band: “41”, “Pig”, anything from the album Before these crowded streets.
    Jupiter coyote: “Flight of the Lorax”, “Nothing’s for certain”

    And singing in church choirs most of my life many hymns calm my spirit. I find that like with your experience in Vegas, music helps my soul adjust to the experiences around me. It soothes me, it helps me cry, it helps me move, it restores my soul. And it’s universal. Thanks!

  2. One of my favorite “jobs” as a play director is choosing music: from setting the mood during the pre-show, to transitions in the scene changes, to wrapping it all up during the curtain call, I love finding music that “fits.”
    Music can make me write better, work out harder, and if a good song comes on the radio during an otherwise crappy day, my day got a little less crappy!
    As I mentioned on your FB post, for me, that Rachmaninoff song will always be connected to the movie Somewhere in Time. I LOVED that movie…another song tied to a movie that I adore is A Time For Us from the 1968 version of Romeo&Juliet, I first saw it when I was 10 years old and couldn’t sleep and caught the movie on late night t.v. – and became completely obsessed.
    Canon in D by Pachelbel is special to me (yes, I walked down the aisle to it). Also get shivers listening to Tori Amos, Sara Barielles, Sinead O’ Connor, Diana Krall and Enya. I kept my first born from driving me insane during her evening witching hour by dancing with her in our little townhome kitchen to Jack Johnson…whenever I hear him I think back to those days! Twelve by Seven Nations is a keeper, The Luckiest by Ben Folds…I could keep going all day… great post!

      • my son is a cellist. look up the YouTube video about why Pachabel must have hated cellists. It’s the most boring, repetitive cello line ever.

      • Which is why they call it a canon… and why you sometimes want to take a cannon to it… I’m thinking the double bass line is even worse, but they’re probably used to it.

  3. I guess I am just a country girl at heart. I like Ronnie Milsap’s “Almost Like A Song” but I also like the love theme from the movie “Somewhere In Time” and the big band sound of Glenn Miller. Come to think of it maybe I’m not so much a country girl when it comes to music,maybe I am more of a rennasaiance woman:)

    • Ronnie Milsap had me at “Stranger in My House,” with the idea that somebody was intruding on his marriage that he couldn’t “see.” Brave man to sing a song like that, but it suggests even those with two functioning eyes can be blind. Gotta love that!

      My last riding horse loved big band music. He was tall, dark and handsome, also very sweet. Can’t say I’ve never danced with a handsome feller when I think of some of the rides we shared.

  4. Dance with a horse…oh my YES. A free style reining exhibition was done after the championships were handed out at the 2009 Nat’l Western Stockshow and a neighbor took me to explain what on earth the horses were doing. One absolutely stunning palomino stud cam out to ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man. He knew he was stunning, his rider knew his mount was all that and they proceeded to enjoy themselves with much speed and flash. ZZ Top will never be that classy ever again. Completely turned a favorite band from my teen years on its head.

    Rhapsody in Blue from the Gershwin Piano rolls, Glen Miller’s String of Pearls, the soundtracks: Pride and Prejudice by Jean-Yves Thibaudet (all but the Militia Marches In), Blade Runner by Vangelis and the Painted Veil…big sweeping sounds of longing, wonder and sometimes civilizations or worlds far away. Often put them on loop and let the sounds wash and acho through the house. If I need a boost the Raiders of the Lost Ark march was always good before a board meeting or some other function that needed to be worked & won if you will.

    • The World Cup Dressage Freestyles are the same, Larisa. You just know the horse is groovin’ to his or her personal playlist. Having assisted with some freestyle designs (degree in music, will travel), I can tell you those five minutes of fun took HOURS to put together.

      • Still have friends who compete Grace – I will keep your ‘will travel’ in mind. Riding a horse who is doing what it loves ranks right up with flying in fighter jets and Italian sport bikes. Absolute Rush.
        Would watch training & purchase prospects play for sometimes hours in paddocks. Looking to learn their personalities, what they enjoyed. And there were one or two who simply Flirted, knowing they had a rapt admirer. *Look at Me*
        Always wonder what songs they hear in their heads.

  5. Just about anything from Chris Tomlin is a keeper for me. My favorite keeper is his “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone). From the time I was little, Amazing Grace was my favorite hymn. I taught myself how to play it on the piano. I thought it was almost sacrilege that someone would have changed it. But then I heard it. I LOVE it!

      • Amazing Grace went from beautiful yet depressing to cherished and Haunting for me when I attended my first Scottish Festival. A lone piper did the first stanza, then the massed clan bands slow marched out of the lakeside mist and they all played the hymn. Over 100 pipes, full kilt regalia. As they did the sun broke through the mist.
        The Divine was vibrantly present right then.
        Have goosebumps just thinking about it.

  6. I’ve enjoyed a lot of DAD outings, Kristin, so thanks for the link. My mom grew up in Paoli and can recall the shows from 75 years ago when the horses would come in on the trains, get off across the street from the show grounds, and walk to the competition from the tracks.

    And Simple Gifts has to be one of the best loved melodies (also among the most abused).

    • So apparently we are all sorts of almost neighbors … ’cause my mom lives in Chester County (PA) and I now live Howard County (MD). nice to meet you, neighbor!

      • It is my privilege and pleasure to rusticate over in Warshington County (sic), in the same small town as La Nora. I will have arrived when somebody asks her if I’m HER neighbor (not holding my breath, though).

  7. There is really no one song that has stayed with me over the years as a go-to song. Though I do find myself consistently in love with James Taylor and Dave Matthews Band.

    Lately the CDs that are in constant rotation in my car are Adele and Zac Brown Band.

    And, really, I’ve had such a crummy day I can hardly string two thoughts together so that is really the best I can do with this blog. And I love music!

  8. Sabrina, sorry about the terrible, horrible, awful very bad day. Dave Matthews is hard not to like, though. Maybe he can join you for a glass of white zin, help the day fade into the oblivion it deserves. I hope tomorrow is better.

  9. BTW: Tuesday’s winner is Allison Edney, who may have the signed GB book of her choice. Three more winner to be chosen this week, and five more next week (when I’m recruiting some fun guest bloggers to inspire your feedback).

  10. I after learning instruments as a kid I have come to love classical, opera, jazz and country and pop music . However there are 3 works that I find bring peace and order to my stressful world ; Beethoven’s fur elise, the song “I hope you dance ” by Lee Ann Womack, and “Hero” by Mariah Carey. It is an amazing feeling to sit in a room and the only sound is from the CD player. Sielence is not easy thing to achieve (except during the “witching hours” of 12am to 6am) in a big city that is always buzzing. I love city life just sometimes wish for volume control.

    • Fur Elise gets a bad rap because it’s very playable, that is, it’s not a tough piece of repertoire, but I agree with you: It’s just lovely. My daughter is the one who had me listen to “I Hope You Dance,” and I’m glad she did. Now I’m off find “Hero,” because I don’t think I’ve heard it.

      When I moved to DC thirty years ago, the transition from small town to busy city nigh undid me, but then one of my friends came to visit, and told me I needed to change my perspective. “You’re in Washington, DC, for cripe’s sake. You wake up every morning in the epicenter of the universe, with life pulsing all around you, and you COMPLAIN?!”
      I also got a better perspective on the appeal of cities by reading Wordsworth’s “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge” where he talks about the wonder of a city at dawn, when “all that great heart” is lying still.
      I’ll never be a city girl, but I can appreciate a city, even though it’s not my ideal environment.

      • That line about the heart laying still I have seen my job had me go to the heart of the city at 5:30am and aside from a group of 40-65 uniforms that had to show up and were to tired to talk there was only the silence. That was when I first actually heard the birds (it was the oddest thing at first ). The song hero became my theme song when I almost lost my dad (I am a stubborn emt ).

  11. Ah, music. One of my favorite things in the world!

    I have been listening to Gino Vannelli since I was 12, and he just keeps getting better and better. Dianne Reeves is a marvel, as is Audra Macdonald. (I love her song, I wanna get married… Some days, it’s Beethoven – Pathetique or Bach (how can you be in a bad mood listening to Bach?)

    Some days, though, only 70’s funk (Rufus featuring Chaka Khan) or rock (Rush or Led Zeppelin will do.

    See, you got me started!

      • With Beethoven, you can’t go wrong! Last year, I went on a Beethoven binge of sorts, because I didn’t know his work as well as I wanted to. And I just say the Boston Symphony Orchestra a few weeks ago – and what a treat – Leif Ove Andsnes playing Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1. It was my first concert in Boston’s marvelous Symphony Hall… and what a performance it was. There is nothing like live music!

        Happy listening!

  12. I like listening to a lot of different kinds of music, and I have always been drawn to lyrics. Some of the songs that they call standards have the greatest lyrics. How romantic is “The Way You Look Tonight.” And can’t you feel the singer’s pain over lost love in “Stardust.” Or how about a love affair that didn’t work, it was “a trip to the moon on gossamer wings, just one of those things.”

    • Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, At Last, Thee I Love, My Funny Valentine… the piano teacher who taught me how to fake (improvise off a melody line and chords) said that the age of songwriting ended with the rise of rock and roll. Whereas previously, the words AND music had to have some sophistication, with early rock ‘n’ roll, neither did. “It has a beat, you can dance to it,” was enough.

      I think today’s popular music has a lot to offer, and I don’t think that piano teacher gave the rock ‘n’ roll oldies but goodies enough credit.

  13. Last time I was in Vegas it didn’t matter if it stayed there – I wasn’t old enough to make trouble, lol. Music, of course, the Paganini, Fur Elise. But whoooowee, otherwise, I’m all over the place. Lyrics are key. “Fireflies”, John Mellancamp, Paul Simon’s “Graceland”, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”, Howard Jones, “No One Is To Blame” , Bonnie Raitt, Narada anything, Jesse Cook just about anything. Love, love, love his flamenco guitar, especially “Breathing Below Surface” and “Afternoon at Sadie’s”. Nothing like rumba music for romance.

    • That IS all over the place. I’m a George Winston fan, in part because his stuff is so transparent even I–thirty years after the last time I really practiced–can play much of it. Next time, bring us some links, Livia!

  14. I think my music probably says I enjoy variety (in my reading too). Anywhere from classical to pop rock to country to blues. Probably the only thing I don’t care for is heavy metal and most rap (although I do enjoy Eminem for some reason lol). At the moment I have been listening to Adele quite a bit – very soulful and sad but it fits my mood at the moment (my daughter recently got divorced).

    • I would have said all rap is beyond my ability to appreciate, then I heard “Encore,” and “Square Dance.” Guess I was wrong.

      Sorry your daughter’s marriage didn’t work out. Divorce happens to half of all marriages (slightly less, now that the economy has made setting up two households an even more expensive proposition), but it’s a trauma. Everybody expects to end up in the happily ever after half (I certainly did) and there are no rules for how extended family can be supportive. Hang in there–listen to the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth.