I love music. Music can both soothe and energize me. It can evoke powerful emotions or memories. And I love it all. If asked to write down my top ten favorite musical pieces, the list would contain classical, opera, rock, pop, country, alternative and soul. I guess you could say that my musical tastes are eclectic. I think I just like good stuff, no matter what the genre.

My favorite piece of all is something I heard quite by chance when I was a child. I had been watching a program on PBS - probably The Cosmos or something similar - and the show ran short, leaving 15 minutes for the station to fill. They filled the time with a kaleidoscope of colors that moved and shifted to the music that was playing in the background. At first, it was the shifting colors that held me there, but soon, I was taken over by the music. For the entire 15 minutes it played, I sat there mesmerized, my eyes closed so I could feel it completely.

It was only when it was over that I realized I was crying.

I didn’t hear that piece again for almost 20 years, but I never forgot it. Such chromaticism! Such modulation! The way it swelled near the end to its heart wrenching apex. I thought about it often and even tried to hum it to my music teachers, hoping one of them would recognize it, but no one ever did.

Then one day when I was a senior in college taking a music appreciation class I considered a pleasant waste of time; considering my years of musical training as a violinist, violist and saxophonist; I heard the piece again. As it began to play, it was as though my heart were being drawn to it, and if it hadn’t been for the other 20 students in the room, I would have wept with relief.

After class, I ran after the professor to ask what the piece was. I could tell how pleased he was as he told me that it was the the Liebestod (finale) from Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde, when Isolda describes her vision of Tristan risen again and then she dies of grief. I told him how long I’d been searching for it, and he reveled in my story, surely feeling his work had been successful that day. I immediately left campus to go purchase the LP. I skipped the rest of my classes, so I could play that record again and again.

Now, almost 20 years later, I still listen to it several times a week and know it by heart. It’s in my car’s six CD changer that holds all my favorites, and if I’m not careful, I still cry at 14 minutes 8 seconds, when the music reaches its apex. It’s just that emotionally overwhelming.

Below is a YouTube video of one of my favorite conductors, Leonard Bernstein, conducting the Boston Symphony as they play the finale. Though it’s not the complete piece, you can see for yourself how wonderful it is. Notice his expression at the apex (6 minutes and 42 seconds in, or when the counter at the bottom is at 2:35), and you can see how emotionally overwhelmed he is.

It’s both beautiful and heartbreaking.