This past weekend, I had the pleasure of being an extra with the Dallas Symphony in their collaboration with Classical Mystery Tour, a Beatles cover band that performs with symphony orchestras around the U. S. I have played this gig before with other orchestras, probably 4 or 5 times, so it would have been easy to write this off as “just another gig,” but as a Beatles fan, this is always a fun program for me to be involved with. However, coming just a couple of days after the passing of George Martin, this particular run of concerts had a particular poignancy about them.
Intellectually, I know there was a time in history before the Beatles and that there are millions of people that died never having heard their songs. There was a time in history before Beethoven as well! But emotionally, it is nearly impossible for me to fathom an existence without the music of the Beatles. These songs have woven their way into the fabric of our society in innumerable ways and they connect everyone who has heard and loved this music to each other. I feel like you could go practically anywhere in the world today, and start singing to a complete stranger: “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad…” and they would finish the lyric for you (well, unless they were shy about singing or they decide to call security!).
“They’re Beatles lyrics, aren’t they?”
“I don’t know, sorry.”
“Of course you do! Everybody’s born knowing all the Beatles lyrics instinctively. They’re passed into the fetus subconsciously along with all the amniotic stuff. Fact, they should be called “The Fetals.”
–James and Helen, Sliding Doors
I was born at the tail end of 1979, so I have never known a time when the Beatles didn’t exist. I delved deep into the Beatles catalog while in college (being the nerd that I am, I took a course on the Beatles and their impact on history), but I knew many of their songs already before that point, somehow. These songs have become part of my DNA over the years; the lyrics are firmly embedded in my long-term memory. So, it was a blissful sensation to sit back during the concerts and hear the audience singing along, because I could tell that this music was just as important (if not even MORE important) to them as it was to me! It was unbelievably hard not to sing along with every tune (when I wasn’t busy playing flute/piccolo).
Golden slumbers fill your eyes
Smiles await you when you rise
Sleep pretty darling, do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby.
–Beatles, “Golden Slumbers”
The Beatles song that holds the most emotion for me is Golden Slumbers. I have had one pet in my life, a beautiful rescue Corgi named Penny. Her time with our family was much too short (only about 18 months) before she passed from cancer, but one of her favorite things to do with me was to ride in the car, and I would sing to her as I drove. Silly songs, mostly, but she seemed to like it. When she got sick and we had to make the heartbreaking decision to put her to sleep, I vowed to myself that I’d sing to her as I said goodbye, to be sure there was something familiar for her to hang onto as she made her final journey. I was barely able to do it, as I was crying while holding her, but those words gave my heart a voice in that moment that I couldn’t express any other way. This song always takes me back to that moment and I have fought back tears more than once in performances where this song appears on the setlist, but it’s also a comfort that in this small way, I can call her memory back to me any time I want.
For this and many other reasons, I can’t be blasé or complacent about the music of the Beatles. Music of all kinds is so meaningful to so many people that it’s my responsibility as a performer to always give 100% of my effort and heart to a gig. Everything I play is potentially someone’s favorite song/piece ever. Everything I play could potentially mean something very special to someone listening. There is no unimportant music. It’s something that I think the people involved in putting the Classical Mystery Tour concerts together understand instinctively, and even if I wasn’t a Beatlemaniac, I think I would be inspired to give my best to these concerts because that’s what these guys do, time and time again.
The concerts closed with a rip-roaring, adrenaline-filled version of Twist and Shout, and the rumors are true… I did in fact get up out of my chair and dance at the front of the stage at the Meyerson Symphony Center. People that know me in real life were pretty shocked, because I do NOT give off the impression that I would be the kind of person to do this (introvert, bookish, etc.). However, I did it for a few reasons: 1) There was a lovely lady in the violin section that started dancing, and what fun is it to dance alone? I decided to join her. 2) This music just makes you want to dance!! 3) As I’m getting older, I care less about I look to other people. I’m not a good dancer, and I certainly could have stayed seated and secretly wished to myself that I had the gumption to get up, but I figured, I’ve never been “cool,” so why try and start now? I may as well embrace my inner dork and go for it. I would rather regret doing things versus regretting not trying.
The Beatles themselves are not immortal, but this music, with its life-affirming character, will live forever in history and in the hearts and minds of all of those lucky enough to be alive to experience it, whether live or on record. How lucky we are to be alive in a world where this music is such a universal truth!