“Home is the place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to go back to.” - John Ed Pearce
There are so many reasons why I love October, beyond the fact that I celebrate my wedding anniversary and both my and my sister’s birthdays (my younger sister, she is insisting I tell you). It’s a glorious month outside, for sure, but there’s a family tradition that I look forward to that we call “the laying in of supplies.”
My maternal grandparents always did this, my parents as well, and I and my siblings continue the tradition in our own homes. The idea is that we New Englanders know that surprise snow storms can pop up any time now, but once you have filled your family’s storage pantry with enough to see you through from October to next spring, then you can breathe again, knowing that you have taken care of those who make your house your home, come whatever Mother Nature will send your way.
One of the most beautiful words in the English language for me is “home.” Not “house”—which is just a structure. Imagine substituting “house” for “home” in sayings like “Home Sweet Home” and “Home is where the Heart is,” or when Dorothy Gale says in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.” You just couldn’t. Home is “all the feels.” It’s your sanctuary, your refuge, your big sigh of relief when you see it again after a long day, the place where you know, when you walk through the door and see the faces of those you love, that “it” (whatever “it” is) is going to be OK.
Classical composers have always understood the importance of home. For centuries, they have written music describing the places that mattered to them, whether their actual homelands, the beautiful places they visited that made them feel whole and safe, or that they recognized were “home” for others. Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, the “Rhenish,” celebrates the Rhineland where he and his wife Clara visited and felt so calm and happy.
Felix Mendelssohn did the same after trips to Scotland (The Hebrides Overture, and Symphony No. 3, the “Scottish,”) and to Italy, (Symphony No. 4, the “Italian.”) In fact, he was so overwhelmed with emotion by the beauty, the sounds and even the fragrance of Italy’s lemon trees that he drew sketches in his notebook so he would remember it all when he began to write the music.
I think of Beethoven who, for his part in a collaborative patriotic opera called Die gute Nachricht (The Good News), wrote “Germania” after German and Viennese allies defeated Napoleonic France. I marvel at the bravery of Jean Sibelius who wrote “Finlandia” at a time when the Russians had control of his native Finland. To avoid Russian censorship the piece was performed under substitute titles such as “Happy Feelings at the Awakening of Finnish Spring,” but it was really his personal act of resistance. He describes in dark sounds the struggle of his people under Russian rule, but towards the end the mood is lighter and his “Finlandia Hymn” is heard. It was a subliminal message of hope about their homeland that he was sending to his audiences.
And I cannot hear Aaron Copland’s “Our Town,” written for the movie of that title, which celebrates Thornton Wilder’s fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire (but based on Peterborough), without choking up. It’s all there – the good people we know, the changing of the leaves, the sense of … home.
This list is far from complete – from Dvorák to Eric Coates, Bach to Gershwin, Tchaikovsky to Granados to Respighi – all these composers and others found ways to celebrate “a sense of place,” so that we listeners would immediately feel comfortable and a sense of belonging when we “visited” those places through their music.
There’s so much that’s different about this October than last, but what hasn’t changed is our need to have our own sense of peace about our sense of place. To know that that place is the same it has always been, and that we are prepared to make sure that nothing will take it away from us.
You have told us that WCRB is part of your sense of place. We are proud to be part of your constant. Tune in any time, and know that you are always … welcome home.
Coda: There are two poignant “home” songs in the Broadway musical and movie Fiddler on the Roof. In “Far from the Home I Love,” Hodel tells her father Tevye why she has to leave her home: “Who could imagine I’d be wandering so far from the home I love? Yet, there with my love … I’m home." In “Anatevka,” villagers mention the little things they’ll miss about their hometown as they are chased out by the Russians.