Theme, Variation, and the stuff of a teenage girl’s dream

The other day my daughter was assigned a piano song. And instantly it took me back.

When I listen to the Pachelbel Canon, it takes me to a very specific moment in time. I was 14, and my father was driving me from Salt Lake to Wenatchee Washington to see my mother for the summer. I loved the piece (as I believe all teenage girls do). You see, it’s mournful, romantic, and hopeful all at the same time. It says, there is a place far away where things will be wonderful. You can’t see it, but it’s there. Anyway, I couldn’t get enough of the song. So, I took it on cassette, with me, for the long road to my mama’s house. These were the days when seatbelts and even riding inside the car were optional. You always drove straight through, because who needs a hotel when you can just lay down in the car? And you would never have imagined a movie screen on the road.

We were driving through the Blue mountains of Eastern Oregon. My dad had this little Datsun pickup truck. It only had a small bench inside the cab, so I wanted to lay in the back. Wrapped up in blankets with my little walkman, looking up at the multitude of stars in the dark night sky I played this piece over and over. It’s so completely repetitive, you would think I would have gotten tired of it, but I didn’t. Why is the song so special? It starts with the simple plucking of the violin string and a cello underneath. The other strings join in, and the piece swells. Pachelbel takes his simple theme and runs with it. Another master… Ravel. The melody and tempo stay the same throughout his Bolero, but the instruments come in one by one…each bringing to the piece their own unique personality. The beginning and end of the piece are the same, except they aren’t.  These men were genius at creating mood with one simple theme, changing it a bit, and boom….you find yourself knocked on your back.

So I wondered…how does tango use this tool? Tango certainly is repetitive by nature, so I knew the song was out there, the song that knocks me over in it’s repetition, but I couldn’t think of anything in my midnight haze. So I did what I think anyone would do. I emailed someone more knowledgeable than me. Luckily Shorey Myers seems to be a night owl as well and five minutes later there was a song in my inbox. She pointed me to the song that was  right in front of my nose. How could I have missed it?!

La Cumparsita!! Of course! Every time I hear it, there is a moment where I think…..it’s time! Time: time for what? In that moment I know I have to dance. The music is so stern, so exciting, and so final. It always makes my heart beat just a little bit faster. I can honestly say, I feel a little cheated if I don’t get it at the end of a Milonga. There are so many  versions of the song, but they all have the same effect. The same strong theme carries throughout the song. And it says…

THE END

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6 thoughts on “Theme, Variation, and the stuff of a teenage girl’s dream

  1. Storyteller extraordinaire! ♥♥♥♥

  2. John says:

    Wow..I remember that trip. You’d never get away with letting a child sleep in the back of a pickup truck these days without getting arrested for child endangerment (and rightly so). I also recall strapping Rachel in the Datsun with a bathrobe sash in lieu of a seat belt. You mention Bolero…the snare drum repeats the same phrase 168 times and the theme repeats 17 times. You either love it or hate the piece.

    A wonderful story. Love, Dad

  3. Dm says:

    Bolero mania, right, I remember it – no longer with a sense of embarrassment. Back in the days Gramps tried hard to introduce me to classic music. On weekends we’d meet in subway and walk together to the Philharmonia along the grand leafy boulevards where men played chess and smoked and where newspapers were on display in glass cases. Our seats were on a balcony overlooking the orchestra, and knew the instruments by their sight and could spell their strange names without a mistake – and yet my ear won’t grasp them. One day I confided to him that one piece of music has finally penetrated my heart, and it was Ravel. Poor old guy must have been heartbroken by the news, and he didn’t renew our Philharmonic Youth pass ever since.

  4. Meghan says:

    Wow……… That is such an amazing story! I love you mom.

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