Essay: My Favorite Things
You will be visited by three ghosts
In honor of it being a holiday week and a time when many folks celebrate with their rituals of choice to bring a little light and cheer into the dark days of winter, I wanted to devote a post to My Favorite Things — both the song and an actual list of my favorite things. Maybe you’ll share your list too and we can have a gratitude fest!
Ms. Andrews: A Visit from the First Ghost
I’ve never had the constitution for musicals. I love music and I love plays, but I don’t love them together and I can’t say why. Look at me starting off a post about my favorite things with something I don’t like! I disclose this preference so you will understand it’s not in character for me to love the song My Favorite Things which was popularized in the musical of all musicals, The Sound of Music. I first heard it from Julie Andrews's lips in the early ’70s during its annual holiday airing on national TV. I will forever associate her voice with warmth and safety and snowdrifts and those massive multicolor Christmas tree lights. What human child could not fall in love with her and anything she sang? But there was something about that song in particular that imprinted on my brain.
Mr. Coltrane: A Visit from the Second Ghost
Many years later, when I was twenty and spent an experimental semester at the North Carolina School for the Arts, I heard John Coltrane’s version. My roommate was a jazz pianist who was obsessed with it and rehearsed the song endlessly with his trio when he wasn’t mainlining Ramen noodles. I couldn’t help but become entranced by the song because it was my first exposure to how the same song in someone else’s hands can become something completely different. Coltrane’s thirteen-minute version is tonally so much darker and brooding. It doesn’t carry a hint of the sugary sweetness infused in Julie Andrews’s take. While there is a sweetness in the lilting tone of his soprano sax and a playfulness in the swirling solos that cascade and dance and honk like a gaggle of geese, it is a much darker, arduous adventure. So, I fell in love with the song all over again but for different reasons. John Coltrane’s horn was full of pathos and angst and bravado. At twenty, I had no use for cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels but I had plenty of pathos, angst, and bravado.
Me: A Visit from the Third Ghost
Thirty years later, the song found me again but this time rather than be haunted, I turned the tables on it. I was recovering from the ending of a twenty-seven-year marriage and everything I had built my life upon up to that point. I was on my own in a little apartment with bare walls and borrowed furniture. I had a tiny little Christmas tree — more of a bucket of cuttings from a Frazier fir that I had set up to make the place feel a little cheerier when my daughter came home from college for the break.
I had been writing a lot of music which, while cathartic, felt like opening up a vein. I was tired of myself and my sorrow and I needed to work up a cover for a little Christmas gig I’d promised to play at a local place called Waller’s Coffee. I found my way into a version of the song that felt right. As I listen back to the recording that you can hear below, I think I channeled both my four-year-old self and my twenty-year-old self. My inner Andrews and inner Coltrane entwined to produce a bittersweet offering for the holiday.1
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