From Opera to Heirloom Harmonicas: My Top Six Musical Experiences of 2013

My view for “Arabella”

1. Attending the opera for the first time, and falling in love with it.

In the past, I devoted my live music attendance to heavy metal acts. Partly because of a steady stream of metal acts make their way to the metro area. It’s a fairly dependable situation within my comfort zone. Apart from the violence, that is. I’ve always hated the mosh pits, and I was nearly punched at a Motorhead show. That’s why I decided to go down a different path this fall. My taste is fairly broad, so an operatic excursion didn’t seem to far afield.

I’ve now seen two positively magical operas so far, Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” and Strauss’ “Arabella” at the Minnesota Opera. My expectations were blown away. I walked through those doors not knowing what to expect, but walked out knowing that I would see as many opera performances that I possibly could from here on out. The stories, the rich sound of a live orchestra and voice, the set, the costumes—all MAGICAL.

They do a fantastic job of preparing the attendees for the experience with synopsis videos with the cast. They also project subtitles at each performance. This is handy, as my Italian is a bit non-existent. You should go. The MN Opera has three more productions in the 2013-2014 season. DO IT.

Instruments in Indian classical performance: mridangam, two violins, and ghatam.

2. Bringing my wife and 5YO to an Indian classical music concert.

The Indian Music Society of Minnesota’s concert season was the second outlet for my non-metal performance attendance.

I want to show my 5YO real-life, strong artists of both genders in all sorts of settings. With that in mind, we all went to the performance by the Akkari Sisters from India. This 5YO was attentive and lasted almost the entire three hours. Hands drummed along, there was shimmying in the seat, and many questions asked.

Now, when I have Indian music on the record player, the 5YO asks, “Is this Indian music?” which, of course, makes me rather proud.

Just dreamy…

3. Seeing Washed Out at First Avenue.

My wife and I have been fans of electronic and dreamy pop artist Washed Out for years, now. When we saw that he was set to perform at First Avenue, I knew we’d have to arrange for a sitter and make a proper date night out of it. My mother-in-law came up from Iowa for a few days, and we had green lights all the way.

That is, until we discovered a case of a certain hair-borne childhood malady upon our 5YO’s noggin on the NIGHT OF THE CONCERT. We combed and shampooed our way past our dinner reservation. Splitting a burrito at Chipotle is not what I had in mind for the ever-rare date night. There we sat, exhausted by the day, only half-looking forward to the concert at that point. But we went anyway.

It could not have been better. The lights were gorgeous, the music was loud, fresh, and familiar. Have you ever seen a show where the performer was just happy to be on stage, performing for you, at that moment? That’s what happened. Thankfully so, as we needed it.


4. Hearing the Jim Hall/Pat Metheney 1999 duo album for the first time, in a hotel at Disneyworld.

I downloaded the 1999 duo album by guitarists Jim Hall and Pat Metheney via the Rdio streaming music app on my phone. I was looking for something to calm my mind a bit, having driven 1500+ miles over several days to arrive at the Land of the Mouse.

I knew of the album, but never heard it. I’m not even sure why I chose that one. I really like Jim Hall (RIP), but the album came out over a decade ago. No matter. Playing that rich and lovely makes petty release dates seem…well…petty.

Funny how that works. I laid in a bed at a Disneyworld resort and had one of my top six musical revelations of 2013. Now every time I play it, I’m taken back to those delightful (and warm) vacation days.

Selfie at the Walker. (Too dark for concert photos).

5. Seeing Tim Hecker / Oneohtrix Point Never at the Walker Art Center.

Two of my favorite ambient electronic artists on the same bill? YES PLEASE.

Hecker played in almost complete darkness, save for the exit signs, fog, and glow from his Macbook. Every sound had me on the edge of my seat, wondering what was coming next. The set featured pieces from several albums, lending some familiarity to it all.

I only wish I would have taken place at an extreme volume. That’s an odd request coming from the guy that wears ear plugs when vacuuming the floor. Instead, the volume was very comfortable, allowing greater detail to come through. For the better, I suppose.

The Oneohtrix Point Never set featured some mind-melting projected images bordering on some sort of man/machine pop-culture/industrial dystopia. It fit very well with the music, some of my favorite in 2013.

Uncle Block’s harmonica.

6. Taking possession of my late, great-uncle Block’s chromatic harmonica.

When I was home for Thanksgiving, I noticed this petite, patinaed thing sitting in the “incoming mail” pile at my folks’ place back in Iowa. I thought it was something new. It seemed a little out-of-place there, as the only musical instrument around the house growing up was my sister’s clarinet. My dad said he’d had it for a while.

Later, I asked my uncle Bill about it at a family Christmas celebration. He said, “Block couldn’t really play. At all. Uncle Jack could though. He could play anything—fiddle, guitar, piano, harmonica.”

For me, it represents music as everyday activity. Not making a living with it or even performing in front of people. Rather, just playing to play because it feels good. That’s something to aspire to, if you ask me.