I got my first library card at the Benjamin Franklin library on East First Street in Boyle Heights. Then we moved to Lincoln Heights–nearby but a whole new neighborhood. One of the first things I did was to go to the Lincoln Heights library and renew my library card. That’s where I discovered classical music and also came to a pretty deep understanding into who I really was.
Here’s how it came about.
Ever since I had heard Mary Rosewell play that Chopin piece on the piano I couldn’t get that tune out of my head. You know how you get a tune stuck and every time you turn around you find yourself humming it again.
But I didn’t know what kind of music this was until that day I was getting my new library card at the Lincoln Heights library on Workman Street. After getting my card, I decided to browse the CDs in the loan out music section. And that’s when I discovered a section of CDS like nothing I had seen before. These CDs were nothing like the Michael Jackson, Madonna, Dr. Dre or Nirvana CDs the kids at school listened to. And nothing like the Trio Los Panchos and Pedro Infante Mexican music CDs mom played on our battered boom box. Truth was until then I hardly listened to much music. All I owned was a handful of leftover children’s CDs from when I was a kid.
But here were these strange CDS with pictures of men from olden days with names like Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart. Mrs. Gonzalez, the librarian I had just met, saw me examining the CDs and came over.
“Do you like classical music?” she asked.
“What’s classical music?” I replied.
“Why, what your holding in your hands.” She picked up one of the CDS with a black and white photo of a weird looking guy with a crazy look in his eyes and really messed up hair.
“Look, this is Beethoven. And over here is Bach and Mozart. These are all great composers who wrote wonderful music many years ago but the music is still played and appreciated today. Would you like to listen to some of it?”
“Sure,” I said. Then I got a brainstorm–I remembered Mary Rosewell. “Hey, do you have something by a guy named Chopin?”
“Why sure. We have lots of Chopin. He wrote lots and lots of piano music. Here’s a piece you’ll like.”
She popped the CD into the player and handed me the headphones.
And that’s when my life changed!
It was the same kind of music that Mary Rosewll had played. But the piano playing went on and on and on. It was so beautiful! Well from then I went to the library every day after school to listen to classical music. When mom found out how much I like this “musica de los grandes,” as she called it, she surprised me one day with a Walkman CD player with headphones. After that I started checking out classical music CDs and listened to them on my Walkman in my room.
Mrs. Gonzalez was really delighted that I enjoyed the music. Soon we had a system going. She would select a CD she thought I might like and she’d have it ready for me when I got to the library. Sometime I’d sit in the music alcove and listen, sometimes I’d just check out the CD and play it at home.
All went well for a while. I found I really liked Bach and particularly the Brandenburg Conciertos and his piano suites. And when I first heard Mozart’s A Little Night Music–Mrs. Gonzalez said that I didn’t need to know the German name, just to call it a Little Night Music. Wow, talk about an earworm! I couldn’t get that “dah…dah,DAH…dah,dah,dah,dah,dah,DAH!” out my head for weeks! Yeah, all was going well until I decided to take my Walkman to school.
At lunch one day I was off sitting by myself, listening to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. I had decided in recent days that old Ludwig (I called him Luddie) was my favorite composer yet. I was so into the music that I didn’t notice Danny Betances, one of the tough gang kids, walking over to me until he ripped the earphones from my head and yanked the Walkman out of my hands.
“What kind of shit do you listen to, punk?”
“Hey, what are you doing!” I said, getting to my feet. “Give it back!”
Suddenly a bunch of Danny’s friend’s came over and started pushing me around.
“Shut up, punk!” “You wanna fight, ese?” “Shut up or we’ll kick your ass!”
All the time Danny was making faces as he listened to the Pastoral playing on my Walkman.
“What the heck kind of music is this?” He asked me.
“Its called classical music.” I said defensively.
“Classical? Who the hell do you think you are, vato? This is white people music. Ever look at yourself in the mirror? You’re Mexican. You’re not supposed to listen to this shit!”
He turned to the other boys. “Check out Lazaro’s stupid white people’s music!”
The other guys, all eager to have fun with me, passed the headphones around from one kid to another, all of them making weird faces of disgust as they listened to the music.
“What a pendejo this guy is!” Danny said.
“Yeah, he’s a real loser, alright!”
They broke out in loud laughter, pointing at me and making kiss-kiss sounds. Thankfully, the school bell rang just then and a teacher called out for everyone to get back to their classes. Danny threw my Walkman and headphones back to me.
“A Mexican listening to classical music? Que pendejo!”
As he walked away and I noticed that Gloria Menchaca, the girl I had a crush on, had witnessed the whole thing. She just looked at me with a sad look, shook her head and walked away.
That afternoon, on my way to return the Beethoven CD to the library, I thought of what Danny had said. That classical music was white people’s music, that I wasn’t supposed to like this music because I was Mexican. But I did like this music, a lot. And Mrs. Gonzalez was Mexican and she liked classical music too.
I realized then and there that Danny didn’t know what the heck he was talking about. And I decided I wasn’t going to care what Danny and the other boys at school thought of me–or Gloria for that matter.
Okay, you’re different, I thought to myself, and not just because you’re a Mexican zombie. And not just because you like to snack on cockroaches and eat cow brains for breakfast, or because you smell of death and suffer from Zombie drool. No, you’re different in another way. Yeah, but I didn’t know quite what it was. I had no name for my differentness. Not until I explained to Mrs. Gonzalez why I was returning the Beethoven CD all broken.
“You won’t have to pay anything,” Mrs. Gonzalez said. “And Lazaro, I wouldn’t worry about those bullies. You’re different from them, you’re very special.”
“How?” I wanted to know.
“Why you’re GIFTED. Remember that. Just like all of these great conductors There’s no end to the things you can accomplish but you have to follow your own path. Just like they did.”
And that’s how classical music liberated me. I didn’t have to worry about what the other kids thought anymore. Maybe I wouldn’t have many friends, maybe Gloria Menchaca would ignore me, maybe I’d be a loner, but I would be me. Lazaro De La Tierra, the gifted Mexican Zombie that loves Beethoven!
Copyright 2012 Lazaro De La Tierra and Barrio Dog Productions Inc.