I’ve been cultivating a love of classical music for decades.
It’s an interest that has brought me immense joy – both directly, from the performances and recordings I’ve been fortunate to experience, and indirectly, from the bonds of friendship I’ve formed with the many wonderful people who have helped me explore and grow this passion.
But there is a single person who is responsible for planting the seed: my Great Great Aunt Pauline.
Pauline, much younger than she was when I knew her. I think she was about 96 when she died in the early ’90s.
Pauline Rivoire was my Great Grandmother’s sister.
I never knew any of my Great Grandmothers – or any other relations from that generation, for that matter – on EITHER side of my family.
My mom came from a big extended family. Both my maternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather had lots of brothers and sisters. So, growing up, I was surrounded by relatives… I just never understand how they were actually related to me!
Aunts, uncles and first cousins were straightforward enough that I could get my head around it, but my understanding got murky when we’d get into second cousins and removed cousins. As a child, there was very little chance I would ever understand how my grandmother’s nieces and nephews were related to me, let alone her cousins.
But I was always clear about Aunt Pauline. Technically, Pauline was my Nana’s Aunt. That made her my GREAT GREAT aunt, but she was always just “Aunt Pauline” to me.
I think I was always impressed by the double “great” – it just made her seem so old.
This is closer to how I remember her. But even here, I think she was still relatively young. When she passed away, she had shrunk considerably. I remember her as tiny.
She was a quirky character, but I liked her. Sadly, I never had much of an opportunity to get to know her as an adult. She passed away in the early ’90s, when I was in university and living with my grandmother.
Because she was so close to Nana (and because she had no husband or children of her own), most of the paraphernalia from Pauline’s apartment – including her old LPs and cassette tapes – wound up at Nana’s house.
The folderol included several box of music, which kept me entertained for hours. Her collection included a variety of styles I had never been exposed to: albums of lounge music from the likes of Esquivel and Henry Mancini, and a variety of Broadway cast recordings, including West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and South Pacific, among others.
All those LPs would eventually make their way into my collection, and help to expand my musical database.
NOT the actual cassette in question. Just a random image.
But my most pivotal foray into Pauline’s collection was a cassette tape of solo piano music. It had two sonatas by Beethoven (the Moonlight and Appassionata, if you’re curious) along with pieces by Liszt, Chopin, and Rachmaninov. These all still stand as some of my favourite pieces, incidentally.
I remember picking up the cassette and thinking, “This music has lasted hundreds of years and I’ve never given it a chance. What if it’s amazing!?”
That would be my first real exposure to classical music – or at least the first time I had listened with any real interest.
It might seem a small thing today, in the age of YouTube and streaming music, but back then, one had to rely on having access to physical media – A record, a CD. Lack of access was a major obstacle to exposure.
I never had the chance to thank Aunt Pauline for that cassette; for the exposure.
Her appreciation for music has taken me a long way from where I started, and she will never know the impact she has had on my life. If not for her, I might still be listening exclusively to pop music.
Instead, I can draw a straight line from her to my subscription seats at the orchestra.