Archive for Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Music, the common denominator

February 14, 2001

What's a teen to do on a long snowy weekend? One recent Saturday afternoon, our teen-age son and his cousin started scavenging through the basement, looking for something to do. Soon, they came upstairs, bringing with them the turntable from my old stereo.

Within minutes, they were ready for the acid test. They returned to the basement and began sorting through a box of LPs, long-playing records.

They recognized a few of them Harry Chapin, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter Paul and Mary albums from the '60s and '70s, albums that coincidentally we now have on CDs and, I must confess, play.

With relish.

And sing along with.

When CDs became commonplace in the late '80s and early '90s, LP purists scoffed at their sound quality, saying they just didn't stack up.

But CDs and their small players were so handy you could walk with them, run with them and drive with them. CDs made for compact storage and a CD on repeat play would go on forever.

What's more, new innovation deleted the need for phonograph needles. Needles that wore out, needles that collected dust bunnies.

The kids' enthusiasm caught on, and soon this different-generational figure was sorting through the records with them.

What is it about the smell of vinyl records that takes us back in time? School dances, the radio in the 1967 Mustang, the drives up dusty roads on summer evenings when crickets chirp, pollywogs sing and we're chasing the sunset we never quite catch. Graduation ceremonies, holding hands with someone we once knew, being young and not knowing how lucky we were, how carefree life was.

The youth today, too, are a part of this musical picture. Yet they most likely don't realize yet that music is a commonality for all generations, that today's popular Beatles CD of 27 No. 1 hits is the same music their parents grew up hearing. They are oblivious and may not realize that someday the music they listen to today will evoke nostalgic memories of their own.

Throughout our lives, music plays a part.

From the moment we're born, when our mother's sing to us, music can be our comfort.

Throughout our lives, music is a basic form of communication. Stroke victims who have lost their speech will sometimes learn to sing again before they relearn how to speak.

The business world knows how to take make the most of our vulnerability to music. Listen to the music in department stores, where the slow languid tunes relax our pace and cause us to linger longer in the shopping aisles. Or in crowded restaurants where a faster paced music can make us clean our plates a little faster and most likely scoot us out the door a little sooner.

Like a well timed nap, the right dose of music can be relaxing, soothing and energizing all at the same time.

And inspirational. When is the last time you got goosebumps when the high school band played the "Star-Spangled Banner"?

But the kids don't think about these things as they're sorting through the sweet-smelling boxes of LPs. It's just music, plain old music and they're in the midst of discovery.

Nor do they think about these things as they put on the turntable the first record it's played in more than a decade.

And the sound of the old records?

On the same stereo on which CDs became the music mode of choice, through the same speakers that have projected CD songs for more than a decade, suddenly there emanated a newer and gentler sound.

With the combination of the needle, turntable and vinyl record, the strum of a guitar sounded much more real than when the CD version of the same song was played.

Clearly, this is one instance where the older-and not-so-improved model may, after all, be better.

Even so, it's unlikely the teens will begin collecting LPs. Nor is it likely they'll turn off the CD players that seem to be permanently attached by speakers to their ears. It is true that old habits, or rather, convenient new habits, die hard.

But perhaps someday, years from now, they'll remember that snowy Saturday afternoon when they pulled a turntable off a basement shelf and for a moment or two at least their ears heard and appreciated the genuine, high-fidelity sounds of another generation.

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