In the first week alone we had over 450 responses. Many of the stories are powerful and passionate. I also asked some prominent musicians to answer the question. Conductor Marin Alsop tells a touching story about how a specific piece by Brahms — the String Sextet in B-flat — was the inspiration that made her dedicate her life to music.
Brahms: String Sextet in B-flat (excerpt) (Amadeus Quartet et al)
I talked with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel about the "First Loves" stories. Turns out he had a story of his own.
"My father had an LP, back in 1952, of Beethoven's 'Emperor' Concerto," Siegel recalls. "And I wore it out, scratching it, playing it over and over again, marching around the strains of the first movement."
"I was homeless, and working holding a sandwich board on the side of the road. It was so dull! I saved up for weeks and got a Sony Discman for $50.00. Now I had something to listen to while I worked. The Discman was so expensive that all I could afford was an Excelsior Gold recording of the fourth and sixth symphonies that was lying in a discount bin for a dollar-fifty. When I was playing it for the first time, in my board, pacing up and down the block — because if you stopped moving at anytime, the police would ticket you for loitering — I suddenly burst into tears. I felt like Beethoven was there with me, saying, "I know this sucks. But look— here is the whole world, outside, birds, the sky, the sun, and here you are! You are in it! Buck up!"
"Because of that symphony, that moment, I decided to dedicate myself to music. I got my GED. I went to community college and got an Associate's in Flute Performance, and another in Humanities and Social Science. Then, I went to conservatory and got my B.M. in Theory and History. I will do my grad work in composition. Maybe someday I will make something that will help somebody like the sixth helped me."
Shaul Yahil — Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor
"The first classical piece I truly loved was the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, which I heard for the first time when I was eight. For four years I had been playing piano, but the moment I heard Igor Oistrakh's recording, I knew I wanted to immediately take up the violin.
"My parents were against it, they didn't think I could handle two instruments at a time. I kept insisting, and they kept refusing. For two years this went on. Eventually they asked me why I so desperately wanted to play the violin. When I told them that it was because I had been listening to the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, they went silent. The next day I got my first violin, and my first lesson was that week. A few months later I learned why my parents suddenly changed their minds. It turns out I'm descended from the Mendelssohns."
"I remember the first time I heard the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. I had just deployed to Kuwait for 15 months. It was late at night. I had a CD in my laptop of classical music found in the movies. It started to play and within minutes tears filled my eyes. So powerful, so full of greatness. It was taking me someplace, I was on a journey. It stopped and I couldn't catch my breath. I knew all that I had left at home, my wife, my kids, would be waiting for me to return. My pain and anguish at our separation had just been played in a music format. I literally listened to it every night before I went to bed."
Barber: Adagio for Strings (excerpt) (Philadelphia Orchestra)
Yochanan Winston — Beethoven: Symphony No. 9
"When I was a teenager in the 1960's Bay Area, my father gave me Otto Klemperer's recording of Beethoven's 9th with the Philharmonia on Angel. I was so taken with the photo of Klemperer's bust on the cover, the mystery of the 1st Movement and the opulence of the 4th that it quickly became — along side Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones — my favorite music to drop acid to. I don't listen to the Dead very much anymore, but Beethoven is still a vital part of my life. Thanks Dad, thanks Owsley!"
Mark Loebach — Chopin: Waltz in F
"About six years ago I was in the middle of a rough divorce — completely stressed out and drained. I went to Borders Books one day and at one of their listening stations they had a Chopin compilation CD on. The first piece was his Waltz in F. I swear I felt the first note hit my knees. I was shaken. As I listened to the piece, I felt months of misery lifted note by note. I was transported and overwhelmed. The music gave me peace, inspired passion, and, not to sound too corny here, hope. At the age of 25, I was turned upside down by that single piece of music, and have never looked back. Classical music has been a major part of my life ever since."
Elliott Delman — Stravinsky: Rite of Spring
"I was nine years old and my parents took me to see Fantasia. When I heard Stravinsky's Rite of Spring I knew right then that I wanted to be a composer. I had never realized until that moment the endless possibilities of music. I pleaded with my parents to buy the LP, and after trying to pawn off a few "nicer, more relaxing" classical samplers on me, I guess I must have been pretty insistent because Rite of Spring showed up and I played it until I wore it out. I would set up a goose-neck lamp on the floor behind me, and with a chopstick in my right hand, I would "shadow conduct" for hours. To this day Rite of Spring transports me emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. It evokes memories of experiences I've never had."