When I was six years old, my mother brought home a record album entitled Beethoven Symphony No.6. -- The Pastoral. Mom didn't have an affinity for classical music; the album was a K-Mart "Blue-Light Special" she had bought on a whim with some pocket change. Perhaps she thought a little "culture" might prove useful for helping to tame her rowdy little ones.
I stood fidgeting on tip-toe as she placed the large, black album on the turntable and lowered the needle into the vinyl grooves. For a moment, I watched the record spin, then sat cross-legged on the floor. All at once, a cheerful, sweeping melody lifted my heart and began to open up my world.
I spent many evenings listening to The Pastoral while sprawled on the brown carpet next to our mammoth stereo system. Sometimes I placed my small hands on the speakers to feel the vibrations the sound made. A few times I fell asleep in that spot. Mom gently scooped me up from the floor and carried me off to bed.
I knew from the landscape which was printed on the album's cover that the music was about nature. While listening, it wasn't hard to imagine walking through a meadow on a pleasant day. My dad worked long hours in a can factory, but on his days off from work he often took my younger siblings and me for hikes through woods and fields.
I always felt disappointed near the end of our journeys when Dad said it was time to turn for home. Inevitably there was just one more bend in the path that I wished I could explore. I could easily relate to the first movement of The Pastoral because it made me feel the same sense of excitement and wonder that I felt when I set out on an adventure with Dad.
In the second movement I could hear flowing water and bird calls. For a small child nothing is more delightful than a creek to wade in. There are so many things to discover: fossils, tiny shells, pretty rocks, salamanders, crayfish. The bird calls in the the second movement were thrilling. Imagine! Instruments that sound like birds! Dad was good at imitating birds in nature. We sometimes practiced together. I loved to imitate whippoorwills and mourning doves.
In the third movement there is folk dancing and revelry! This is the part where I would skip and dance around the room.
Quick -- run! A storm is coming!
Throughout my childhood I considered storms to be delightfully frightful. A storm meant the power might go out and we could light candles! Rumbling thunder was exciting. It made me feel glad to be safe, and dry in the sanctuary of our snug home. The fourth movement of The Pastoral is a surprisingly realistic depiction of a thunderstorm.
The fifth and final movement is a shepherd's song of thanksgiving. It is an uplifting ending to a wonderful musical experience. To this day, whenever I hear Beethoven Symphony No. 6, I am filled with eager delight and reminded of the hopeful innocence and spirit of adventure that I felt when I was very young.