In the dark of that sleepless night,
we listened for hours to my
classical and film score playlist—the
music I most love and cherish.
And to my delight, you loved
them all, although we never got
one wink of sleep!
You kept asking me the names of
the songs, but many I had long ago
Thanks to you, my sweet
and curious granddaughter,
I have collected all the titles
and videos of my favorites in this
blog post, so next time you ask,
I won’t forget.
To understand me is to
listen to the music that takes
my breath away and moves
me to my very soul.
But to know me,
and I mean
to really know me,
is to appreciate what
the music awakens
in my senses, my memories,
and my thought patterns.
I hope that through my
interpretation of my favorite
music, you will gain a
forever picture of what
moves me, and why.
I can only hope that one day,
all my grandchildren will
read this blog post, and then
listen to every song while
keeping Grandma Teri in
their minds and hearts.
And I hope that if they
read this post,
it will help expand on what
they already know and feel
about Grandma Teri,
who will adore them
beyond the end of time.
And to the rest of you,
I can only say
that if you care to
know the real me,
and I don’t mean
you will also take
some time to read
and listen below.
A Sparrow Alighted upon our Shoulder
Jóhann Jóhannsson (1969-2018)
I am fascinated with sparrows, so years ago, when I first heard this piece and then the title, I instantly connected with it. Those shy, vulnerable, but resilient sparrows are my kind of birds. They don’t fly south in the winter but weather the storms and cold in the north, just like me. And while their plumage won’t sweep you off your feet, they have a beauty all of their own. Oh, how I wish one would alight upon my shoulder just once.
Listening to Jóhannsson’s powerfully delicate piece lifts me out of the doldrums and confines of winter. His melancholia speaks to me much like the song of the sparrows burrowed in my Leyland cypress trees. They harmonize every fading day, oblivious to the dank and cold. And I revel in the simple song of my sparrows, a series of flawless, sweet-sounding notes.
Adagio in G Minor
Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751)
Unlike us mere mortals, Albinoni’s music is immortal and will live to the end of the world’s time. His notes are some of the most poetic and haunting I have ever heard, and the lead violin is heaven-sent. And does anyone remember when the Doors used it as an overlay to the late Jim Morrison’s poetry on their album An American Prayer?
Adagio for Strings, Op.11
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Barber’s ethereal composition is simply the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard. It expresses grief in a peaceful, loving, living, and breathing way. All my untold love stories are wrapped up in this one melodiously moving treasure. If this resplendent piece isn’t played at my funeral, I’m not going.
Theme from Schindler’s List
John Williams (1932-)
Williams wrote and conducted the original score for Schindler’s List, a feature film about the Holocaust. In the soundtrack, Williams brilliantly incorporates melodies from European Jewish traditions. The violin is the focus of this piece and brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. I hope it will touch you in much the same way. I only watched the movie one time because one time was all that I could bear, but the soundtrack is a perfect example of the power of music—incredible, moving, emotive, and timeless.
My favorite version of this piece is with Davida Scheffers on the oboe. She had the honor of playing with the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra as a result of winning a contest.
Ms.Scheffers was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which is an excruciatingly painful neuromuscular condition that all but derailed her career—her professional dreams coming to an end before it even got started. When you watch her performance, the admiring young blond in the audience is her beautiful daughter, who turned 18 on the day of her mother’s brilliant debut.
Ms. Scheffers’ brilliant performance is a reminder that life is tough—nobody ever said it would be easy. And John Williams’ haunting song reminds me to never, ever let the ugly parts of history repeat themselves. And above all, to be kind.
Chad Lawson (1975-)
On May 1, 2022, Chad Lawson released Irreplaceable to mark Mental Health Awareness Month. Lawson had me at mental health, and I have listened to Irreplaceable hundreds of times. The best way to describe Lawson’s piece is to use his own words:
“Take a deep breath and appreciate those irreplaceables in your life: that person that will always hold a place in your heart, that favorite spot to sit and pass the time, or that most cherished memory that always brings a smile.”
Chad Lawson (1975-)
Lawson’s soothing piece takes me to a place where I feel that maybe—just maybe—letting go is possible. I have always said that I am a work in progress, so yes, I am working on it. Letting go. That’s the dream.
Richter Summer 2
Max Richter (1966-)
Max Richter is one of my favorite contemporary classical composers. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could recompose and reinterpret Antonio Vivaldi’s four violin concertos titled The Four Seasons, but Richter recomposed them brilliantly. Richter’s recomposed version of Summer is simply out of this world.
Max Richter (1966-)
This Richter piece makes me feel emotions and brings back memories I had long ago forgotten and perhaps didn’t even know were there.
November has always been my clarion call for the cold winter to come. And yet it also reminds me that true warmth comes not from the spring and summer but from the littlest ones, my treasured grandchildren. Some might describe this piece as sad, but I find it ever-promising of the things to come.
On the Nature of Daylight
Max Richter (1966-)
This song is another Richter masterpiece and helps me conjure up some inner peace.
The memory it evokes every time I hear the violin, for whatever random reason, is my grandmother working into the wee morning hours on her sewing machine. The violin soothes me like the soft whirring her machine used to; over 65 years ago.
No matter how many hours she worked during the day, she always took to the sewing machine in the dead of night, when everyone else was asleep, to create something she envisioned would look beautiful on me. She couldn’t read or write in English, but her sewing artistry was masterful.
Or perhaps it was masterful because her love for me was so pure. This piece warms my heart and reminds me of the blessedness of unconditional love.
Max Richter (1966-)
Okay, so by now, you must know that I love Max Richter, and I think he is the greatest composer of our era. I see myself in Richter’s music—perhaps because it’s clear to me that he knows a thing or two about pain. And yes, I feel pain when I listen to his music, but it also gives me hope.
This Richter piece was composed entirely on piano and takes me to a place I can’t even begin to describe. Departure reminds me that I’m never too old, and it’s never too late—for anything.
Air on the G String
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Air, over 300 years old, is my favorite piece of baroque music. There is pure simplicity in its genius, and any rendition of this piece captivates and inspires me. Every time I hear it, I can actually feel the air surrounding and lifting me to the highest of heights.
Sonata # 14 “Moonlight” Op. 27 No. 2
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
This sonata is one of the first pieces I ever perfected on the piano—as perfectly as I could play it, that is. Beethoven’s hearing was already seriously deteriorating when he wrote this piece—a reminder that nothing is impossible.
Beethoven is my favorite classical composer, primarily because not even his deafness could stop his otherworldly genius. Despite his difficult childhood, Beethoven created music for the ages—and many of his most beautiful creations came well after he could not hear.
For the last 31 years of Beethoven’s life, he taught himself to listen to his music using his imagination, memory, and piano vibrations. How sad that he composed many of his greatest works without ever having the ability to listen to the glory of his miraculous accomplishments.
Ernesto Cortazar (1940-2004)
Speaking of Beethoven, Ernesto Cortazar, a Mexican composer, wrote this stirring song in 1999 as part of a ten-song album titled Just for You—a spectacularly moving album about love and heartbreak.
The piece starts uncannily as if Beethoven was asking, “Why me?” The angst in Cortazar’s composition is heartbreakingly poignant. The ending is a chilling, agonizing resignation and reluctant acceptance of the answer—a musical genius, now deaf.
Just for You
Ernesto Cortazar (1940-2004)
I highly recommend you listen to Cortazar’s entire album. Every song on it is a wonder, and I listen to it often. As a writer, his touching compositions in Just for You prompted me to conjure up a love story—maybe his. It seems to me that the entire album is for and about someone Cortazar was in love with. How Beethoven’s Silence got into the album, I still haven’t written into the story, but I’m sure there was a reason for it.
Here is my interpretation of the remaining nine songs on the album:
Just For You (Cortazar’s beautifully composed dedication to his significant other.)
Judith (Whomever this Judith was, she meant the world to him. Cortazar’s poetic composition speaks for itself—you can hear the love.)
Let Me Kiss You (A light and airy ode of pure joy and lifelong bliss.)
Let’s Take a Walk (My favorite piece on the album. I envision the loveliest walkway leading to a garden overflowing with pink roses, baby’s breath, and forget-me-nots.)
The Moon Is Watching Us (The moon’s beams light and protect their way. They walk hand and hand—their future full of hope.)
Love Hurts (I feel the anger and the pain in every piano keystroke. The hope is gone, but I still feel the love.)
River of Dreams (Cortazar wrote this piece when he was 18. I can almost see the dream—a powerful rushing river, spilling over with opportunity and possibilities. But that was way back when, and Judith is now.)
L’adieu (Farewell in French. Alas, it’s time to say goodbye, and the loss is immeasurable.)
What Happened Between Us (I envision the confusion, the back and forth of the why of it all, the loss, the what ifs.)
Ennio Morricone (1928-2020)
Morricone wrote this brilliant theme song for the film The Mission. Gabriel’s Oboe is stunningly peaceful and transcendent. This heavenly and exquisite piece makes me wish I had tried my hand at the Oboe.
Alexandre Desplat (1961-)
This song, written for the film Danish Girl, gives me chill bumps every time I hear it. The beauty of its crescendo moves me beyond words. Desplat’s magical piece reminds me that although the mirror might reflect an almost perfect image, it is superficial in that it can never reveal the mysteries of our hearts or what endures deep inside of us, which of course, is what matters the most.
Ludovico Einaudi (1955-)
I’m unsure why, but this piece reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Little Prince—a tender tale of friendship, loneliness, love, and loss. I can see myself in a desert, gazing up at the infinite sky and stars. The buildup of the orchestra is God-sent and an unforgettable and phenomenal musical experience.
Meggie’s Theme/Anywhere the Heart Goes
Henry Mancini (1924-1994)
Henry Mancini perfectly captured the searing pain of forbidden love in this theme song he composed for the television miniseries The Thorn Birds. For me, this song reminds me of the emotional rollercoaster that is life, as well as the heartbreaking realization that the deepest of love can be devastatingly elusive.
River Flows in You
Yiruma is a South Korean composer and pianist. The piano keys in this piece indeed flow like a river and leave me feeling tranquil, hopeful, and at peace. A river’s progression is much like our own. It doesn’t flow to serve others; it charts its own path, determined to free-flow, outwardly calm and contained, but beware of its mighty force. Never underestimate the might and strength of a river or a woman.
Kiss the Rain
This piece is yet another Yiruma masterpiece. It reminds me of the beauty in simplicity. I adore the rain and have been known to run outside and drench myself in it. I love the way it speaks to me—the way it feels on my skin and hair. Most people check the weather reports in hopes of a sunny day. Not me. And if I could kiss the rain, I surely would.
Prelude #1 in C Major, From the Well-Tempered Clavier
Sebastian Bach (1685-1703)
In Bach’s time, clavier meant any stringed keyboard. At only 600 or so soothing notes, I still get goosebumps whenever I hear it. It pushes me to rise. It pushes me to fly. And the trill at the end, oh my.
Hans Zimmer (1957-)
Hans Zimmer wrote this moving and unforgettable song for the film Inception. Zimmer, a gifted and self-taught pianist, only had two weeks of piano lessons.
For me, classical music is a wordless language, and this Zimmer piece is the perfect example of telling a story without using a single word. The buildup of the quiet start of this piece to the all-encompassing crescendo and then back to the quiet transcends the written word.
I envision this piece as a four-chapter book. Perhaps even the book of me. From birth to turbulent teenager, to struggling adult, to life’s twilight. The ending of this piece—as in death—is so definitively final and yet divinely euphoric.
A side note to my beautiful granddaughter: I’m sure you do not recall, but this was the piece you finally fell asleep to on that night when we held your weeping homesick baby sister tight between us.
You may not recall the song, but I am sure you vividly remember that we were all “wide awake.” Yes, we got less than one hour of sleep and were exhausted the next day, but oh, what I wouldn’t give to go back in time to that sleep-deprived night.
Prelude in C minor, Opus 28, Number 20
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
When first learning to play Chopin’s Prelude on the piano, I initially thought it would be easy to master. Boy, was I wrong. The difficulty came not in the playing of the keys and chords themselves but in the control and intensity of the tempo and balance combined with the ability to withstand the weight and pressure on the hands and lower arm muscles.
What brought this piece to life was the strength and endurance of my pinkies and wrists. If my fingers weren’t throbbing in pain after playing it, I knew I hadn’t given it my all.
Chopin’s Prelude in C minor also inspired Barry Manilow’s hit song, Could It Be Magic. And for the record, I disco-danced to Donna Summer’s rendition of Manilow’s song at Studio 54 uncountable times—although, in my opinion, her awkward oohs and ahhs were completely unnecessary.
All Things Must Fall
Dustin O’Halloran (1971-)
O’Halloran’s brilliant piece is a stark reminder of the circle of life. The tenderness each note emotes is breathtakingly peaceful. I envision myself sitting atop a towering mountain, taking in the glory of a sunset.
To add this piece to my playlist is to acknowledge that at 70, I recognize that, indeed, all things must fall. Not in a morbid or depressed way, but more of a celebratory life-well-lived way.
An Ending, A Beginning
Dustin O’Halloran (1971-)
I have always said that endings might just be more beautiful than beginnings, so this song has a special meaning for me. And a most fitting end to this blog post.