I was listening to the classical music station while driving the 15 minutes home from town the other day, and a piece of music came on the radio that I hadn’t heard in a long time. A piece of music that is steeped in my family’s lore. A piece of music about which no one can be neutral.
I’m talking about Maurice Ravel’s Bolero.
I don’t know that I remember the very first time I heard this famous piece of music, but I do remember the first time I was old enough to understand my mother’s feelings about it.
She was not amused.
In fact, if there is any piece of classical music that my mother can be said to hate, it would be Bolero. I think mom’s issue with it is that she hates the repetition of it and she hates the way it makes her heart beat in the rhythm of the drums.
Mom is not a fan of drums.
My father and sister, on the other hand, love it. My dad’s love for it might come more from teasing my mom about it than from real love, I’m not sure. My sister, though, will turn the music up loud and dance around the house and, if I know her, collapse on the floor dramatically at the culmination. Well, if she doesn’t, she should.
The first time I remember hearing Bolero, I decided that I hated it, too. I decided this for several reasons. One being that it was different than anything I’d heard before, and was, therefore, suspect. (My parents listened exclusively to classical music, but this was NOT like the usual stuff they listened to.)
But the main reason I disliked it was that Mom disliked it.
Now I don’t disparage my mom at all in this telling – everyone is entitled to their opinion and, as a mom myself now, I know how hard it is to never express my opinion on anything and thereby impact my children’s opinions about those very things. It’s impossible. And our kids pick up on that.
When I first heard Bolero, I was at the age where whatever my mom thought, I thought as well. I remember looking at the Sears catalog with Mom once (remember those honking huge catalogs, the stuff of dreams and visions and uplift for short guests at the dinner table?) and every dress that she liked, I liked. I remember echoing her views about the dresses, and my sister saying scornfully, “You only like that because Mom likes it.”
“I do not!” I said. But suddenly it dawned on me that I did.
And so, for many years (not giving a lot of thought to Ravel or his Bolero) I disliked it.
And then one day, along about late high school or early college, it dawned on me that I actually liked Bolero! I actually got a kick out of the repetition, the change in each repeat, the different instruments entering in (and trying to identify those instruments as they did so), the rise in volume and intensity. I especially liked the rapid slide at the end, signifying the dancer’s collapse on the stage in an exhausted heap. (At least in my mind that’s always what happens at the end!)
All these thoughts went through my mind as we drove home the other day – dancing along as best I could while in the driver’s seat – listening to Bolero.
And my daughter, in all her five-year old wisdom, said (without prompting), “I don’t like this music! Can we listen to something else?”
I laughed out loud and turned up the volume.
Being very careful to keep my opinions to myself as I did so.
When we got home, I stopped the car in the driveway and we listened to the last couple minutes. I laughed in delight when it came to a crashing end.
My daughter’s response? “Finally it’s over! Can I put on Veggie Tales now?”
I found this link to Bolero on You Tube and it’s 5 minutes of your life that will not be wasted if you give it a watch. It is vastly shortened from its usual 15 or so minutes, but that’s fine – you can find the whole thing on You Tube or anywhere else if you like.
This is a “flash-mob” made up of members from the Copenhagen Philharmonic in Copenhagen’s Central Station. I love the way the musicians gradually enter in (which is so perfect for Bolero, as it’s a gradually building piece of music), and the realization that dawns on the faces of the audience as they sit on the floor, point, whisper, and clap wildly at the end.
I absolutely love this video.
If you’d rather watch it actually on You Tube, click below.