MY DAD AND HIS MUSIC – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My father, Abram Kardiner, was a well-known, well-respected psychoanalyst and anthropologist. He wrote many books, founded professional training programs and taught as a professor. But his real love was music. Listening to it, playing it, studying it.

My dad loved opera and classical music above all else. Opera blared throughout the house on his stereo every weekend. (P.S. I hate opera and always have!). He went to the opera and to concerts often and knew all the scores by heart. His favorite composer was Richard Wagner. He had a running debate with a friend over who was a greater composer, Wagner or Mozart.

But he was not a music snob. He listened to all kinds of music. He admired Broadway and popular music and he saw something in every musical style (rap had not been invented yet). He particularly liked the Beatles. He thought Paul McCartney was a genius and compared some of his melodies to Mozart’s.

In addition to listening to music, my father could also play musical instruments. He played the piano well and the violin adequately. But he had perfect pitch. He had the unusual ability to hear something and then be able to play it. He could go to an opera or a Broadway musical and come home and play most of the score on the piano. Without sheet music. Just from memory. It was awesome. I could play him anything and he could reproduce it for me on the piano!

But Dad could definitely read music. He was also well versed in music theory and had thought about becoming a conductor. One night I saw him in bed with a very large book. I asked him what he was reading. He turned the book around to show me and he was sight-reading the musical score of Tristan and Isolde. He was conducting along with his right hand as he held the book with his left.

Dad developed a relationship with some people from Julliard, the primo music school in New York City. We would regularly have musicales in our home. Dad would invite people over to listen to a private concert given by a Julliard student on our Steinway baby grand piano. He nurtured several pianists over the years.

Dad accomplished another extraordinary musical feat. When he was young, he actually MADE two violins. He taught himself how, he got the wood and the tools and created two violins from scratch! Good ones too.

Violins need to be played to keep their tone. So Dad loaned his violins to Julliard violinists to play. The violins had to be pretty good for Julliard students to play them. Often the violinists would come over and play with the pianist at one of our musical evenings. On one of Dad’s violins!

One of the things my dad regretted most in his life had to do with one of his violins. He felt it needed a minor adjustment in sound. So he took it to a violin maker and asked him to shave off just a sliver of wood from the center. The man shaved too much and, in my father’s eyes, ruined the tonal quality of the violin. It was still good, but no longer special. Dad never stopped obsessing over that mistake.

I took piano lessons as a child. I was good and I had my father’s great ear. But this was the area where I decided to rebel against my parents. The more they wanted me to play, the more I didn’t. I rejected music and eventually refused to practice the piano. My parents gave up on me when I was about nine. I later took clarinet briefly in school and took a year or two of guitar lessons as a teenager. But basically, I’m a musical dolt. I can’t play anything and I can’t read music.

Dad and me

Now I regret this deeply. I love music (though not opera) and listen all the time. It’s just frustrating to think that I could really play the piano if I hadn’t been such a child, when I was a child!



Categories: Ellin Curley, Family, Music, Parenting and parents, Photography

Tags: , , , , ,

15 replies

  1. I love this photo of you and your dad, the look on his face…

    always wanted to be able to play something, anything, but my desire and my attention span are miles apart. So, I listen.

    Like

  2. I played the piano and organ when young and took up the flute and piccolo later in life. Our younger son gave me a violin for my birthday last year so that is next on the list. You can do it if you really want to.
    Leslie

    Like

    • I add the the ONLY reason I gave up on piano is that my hands and wrists are too arthritic to do it anymore. They want to, but can’t for long enough to get through a piece. I’m intending to learn ukulele — but I keep writing and photographing — and I run out of creative space! But I could and one of these days, I will. Also, consider the recorder. It is beautiful and relatively easy, too. And you get the incredible joy of hanging around in a musical instruments store and loving all the creations.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I do love those musical instrument stores. They have things I’ve never heard of nor seen before.
        Leslie

        Like

      • I played recorder as a kid. And clarinet and guitar. Recorder is a good idea. I think I can master that and have fun playing around with reading music again. Much easier with only one clef.

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    • I tried piano again as an adult and found it very difficult and frustrating. It came easily as a child. But now, I think my ADD got in the way of slogging through the rough parts to get to enough proficiency to make it fun. You are obviously really good at learning to play instruments. But you’ve given me hope that I could try again. I have a piano so I might just go for it!

      Like

      • We have to realize that we won’t be Glen Gould but to be able to play a few pieces on any instrument can be a lot of fun.
        Leslie

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        • Good point. Having lower standards takes some of the pressure off. I don’t have to try to play well, just be able to have fun fooling around with music on my own.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Exactly, Ellin. Also there’s a lot of fun in discovering new music. When I hear a classical piece that is beautiful, I try to find the music for it. Then there are different styles of music too.

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  3. Great article! It’s never too late so if you want, you can start learning now. Just a thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • He has a point. I know a lot of people our age who have started learning to play instruments. You could get an electronic keyboard — full size. I had one for more than 20 years and only sold it a couple of months ago

      Liked by 1 person

    • I tried taking piano lessons as an adult . I had a lot of trouble learning how to read music again. I also had trouble reading the left hand and the right hand together. It was just frustrating for me. Maybe I should try again.

      Like

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