RAV and FP

RAV and FP

Both of my parents were musicians. Growing up, our house was filled with music, the teaching of it, the performing and discussion of it. In the early evenings my brother’s trumpet playing from his room on the second floor was often in counterpoint to my piano practicing on the first. My father and mother both directed choirs at the same girl’s school in Buffalo, New York and mom was the soprano soloist in dad’s choir at a large Protestant church near the city’s downtown. Music was the family business.

My mother, Ruth Lillian Andresen, was born in Queens. Her parents, both descendants of hearty German stock, grew up a few blocks away from each other in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  She was the apple of her father’s eye and she went to college, first Colby Junior College in New Hampshire and then Mt. Holyoke. She met my father when she was 15. He had been hired to be the organist at her church, Richmond Hill Baptist. They were married nine years later.

Considering her background and the musical tastes of her parents, her open-mindedness concerning all kinds of music is quite remarkable to me. We performed together many times and the repertoire indicates her adventurousness-Five Songs of Anna Akhmotova by Prokofiev (she learned it in Russian), Stravinsky’s The Owl and the Pussycat and Fiançailles pour rire of Poulenc. She also sang Barber’s Knoxville with a student orchestra I conducted at Harvard. Yes, these are all mid-century mainstream figures (though the Stravinsky is a 12 tone piece), but I am full of admiration for her discrimination within that literature. Of the composers she loved the most, Poulenc was undoubtably at the top of the list. She was a Romantic at heart and it didn’t take more than a few bars of say, Fleurs or Le Ponts-de-Cé and she was mentally and emotionally walking down the Champs-Élysées.

So when Poulenc and Bernac came to Buffalo in 1952 to give a recital, she made sure to sing for them. They were both very gracious and many years later, in 1968, she and I traveled to Ann Arbor to have two days of lessons with Bernac. He remembered her and coached us in Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc songs. His predominant advice for my playing of Poulenc -“there cannot be enough pedal”. To her it was-“you must live the words”.

But my mother’s musical gifts and ambition went beyond singing-she was an excellent conductor as well, and she led the first Buffalo performance in 1954 of Poulenc’s Litanies `a la Vierge Noire, with my father playing the organ. Some years later, my first pieces were either for organ, choir or voice. My parents were my first interpreters as well as critics. And they were very nice about it.

I wish I had a recording of her singing some Poulenc or Debussy, but I don’t. But I do have her singing Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “Happy Talk”. She’s probably about 40 years old here, though she sounds like a young girl, which in a way is how I like to remember her. Take it away, Ruthie (and Hans).