Music's communicative power — "such sweet compulsion," Milton called it — has been known to change lives. Hearing the right piece at the right time can make a person start to think and feel differently, maybe start down a new path.
In a thoroughly unscientific sampling, members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and other classical musicians who perform regularly in the area were asked to talk about the first works that caught their ears and hearts and have continued to inspire them.
Some surprises turned up in the responses, along with compositions that have long been very popular. The common thread in these recollections is the sense of being deeply connected and affected to the music, experiencing a process George Gershwin described this way:
"Music sets up a certain vibration [that] unquestionably results in a physical reaction," the composer of "Rhapsody in Blue" said. "Eventually, the proper vibration for every person will be found and utilized."
Here are the stories of how some local musicians discovered those proper vibrations.
"My parents used to play classical music in our house," says Jane Marvine, the BSO's principal English horn player. One work in particular made a deep impression on her growing up.
"[Stravinsky's] 'Rite of Spring' was it for me," Marvine says. "I remember sitting and listening to that record as a kid and getting all these mental images of what was happening in that music. It was so spooky and visceral."
Another piece caused an even more visceral reaction later.
"I was in my middle school orchestra and we were playing an arrangement of the last movement of Brahms' Symphony No. 1," Marvine says. "[In the coda] I got the strangest feeling, a feeling I had never had before. I was getting such a chill it kind of scared me. Every time we played it, I would get this emotional reaction during the coda. It was almost like taking a drug."
The Chicago-born Marvine, who gives her age as "the new 40s," says Brahms' First still strikes a chord. "I can't help but be moved," she says.
A native of Washington, D.C. who lives in Baltimore, Bryan Young is principal bassoonist of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and member of the Poulenc Trio. He started on violin around the age of 6, but "bassoon classes were right next door, and that seemed much cooler," he says.
"I had two cassette tapes that my parents happened to have lying around the house — Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 and Mozart's Greatest Hits," Young, 40, says. "They absolutely captivated me as a kid."
When he was a sophomore in high school, the bassoonist got a deeper experience with the Shostakovich Tenth as a member of the D.C. Youth Orchestra.
"What pushed me over the edge into music was when the youth orchestra did a tour of Russia right before the fall of the Soviet Union and I got to play that symphony there," Young says. "Anytime I hear it today brings it all back. It really does."
BSO principal timpanist James Wyman had his first drum set before the age of 10 in his hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio. In his teens, he began to feel a serious pull toward classical music.
"I got my first car in high school, a $900 Ford with a crappy cassette player," Wyman, 30, says. "The only cassette I had was Beethoven's Fifth [Symphony]. I played it until the tape broke. When I hear that symphony now, the same scene comes to mind — it's late at night, and I'm getting goose bumps when the horns come in [during] the third movement."
After he entered college to continue percussion studies, Wyman had a second major musical encounter.