BANGING MY HEAD ON MY PILLOW

Ironically, the earliest musical memory that I can conjure is listening to the Danse Russe from Stravinsky's magnificent score for Petrouchka. I listened to it on my 78 record player, a "newer" version of that machine that enabled you to stack several records for continuous play (not a very good idea, because the records would occasionally break when one came toppling down on the other). I would vigorously bounce my head on the pillow to the rhythm. In thinking about it now, it's probably one of the best examples of a steady, driving rhythm, made all the more intriguing by a quasi modal motif in thirds. 3missing, perhaps a casualty of my turntable.

My record player became a special world for me. It would blossom later, into an LP player (33 rpm) and a radio. It was a special place I could go. It was to become a whole world and yes, even a religion. But there were lots of other places I was getting my musical "fixes." There was my dad, Felix. I knew he was very good but realized much later, after he was already gone, that he deserves being dubbed something on the order of being a musical genius. Such magnificent violin playing, ranking way up there near the Heifetz/Kreisler pinnacles. You see, back before I was born, he had put together a little "band" that became known as the Hollywood String Quartet (HSQ); I think the acronym had not yet been invented. Sometimes the quartet would rehearse at night, after our bedtime. The bedrooms in our house were upstairs, so I would sneak over to the banister and listen, occasionally trying to get a look and often getting a reprimand from mom, "go to bed, ferchristsake!" I don't think she really minded that much.

Somewhere around this point I recall my brother Leonard and the violin lessons, with his (and my) Dad. I don't think that these lessons were too successful and I have vague recollections of some loud, not-too-pleasant exchanges (but no hitting!). Our parents reminded us on numerous occasions that the "old" schooling often did include such things and that when Felix went to Curtis to study with Zimbalist, his teacher would make him hold his hands out and whap him across the knuckles with his bow. (Perhaps that practice was discontinued because it could potentially cause damage, or even break the stick?). Whatever those violin lessons were, or weren't, Len would be the first to admit that he never demonstrated a lot of aptitude for playing stringed instruments.

At that age (late 7s?), I was prone to imitating my 2 1/2-yrs.-older brother. I remember one day, when we were sharing a bedroom, Len did a swan dive into his bed; when I followed his lead (it was dark) I misjudged a bit and my eye met the pointed corner of the bed rest. Instead of enjoying the evening I went to the hospital for stitches! I was about to make yet another mistake by beginning violin lessons with dad (you can read that as you like). Somehow or other, the powers, and possibly my late 7 intuition, pointed me in a slightly different direction. The quartet was rehearsing, and I was getting curiouser and curiouser. I got up my courage, and while they were taking a break, I asked them if I could pluck the strings of their instruments (a bizarre spin on Goldilocks?). I started with the fiddle; I'm calling it a fiddle because generally, in my vast experience, violin pizzicatti, even in the kingdom of the "mother pluckers," sounds like crap! I moved on to the viola, which was a little better. But then, I carefully pulled on each of the cello strings - the resonance was awesome, and I announced, "That's the one I want to play!" My mom said, "Great! He'll start with my Papa Gregory tomorrow!" (I'm glad there wasn't a double bass at that rehearsal!).

Go East Young Man
Mr B, the Duke and Me
Grandpa Grisha
A Perfect Pitch Diversion
Banging My Head On My Pillow
All content © 2020 Frederick Zlotkin