My older sister bought a James Taylor album when I was in the sixth grade and I was so taken with his music that I manually recorded it with my cassette tape recorder so that I could play it over and over again. The year was 1970 and the album was Sweet Baby James.
Since then his music has continued to speak to me. I love many different kinds of music from English choral music to musical theatre to the Beatles and beyond. But something about the music of James Taylor speaks to the core of me. I think we all have music like that--at least I hope we do.
Thursday night my husband took me to see James Taylor in concert. As a fan I experienced the concert with joyful excitement. I clapped, I swayed, I mouthed the words, I cried. As a musician I noticed and pondered the changes in how the songs are performed as time passes.
The tempi are slower now. The forward-driving pulse has let up a bit. He takes time with each line, savoring the meaning. The up-tempo pieces still retain their kick, but the lyrical ones invite us to linger.
Part of me wants the music to be exactly the way it is on the record. But the reality is that music is a living thing and that he has been living with this music on the road all his life. It breathes, it grows, it evolves. He may take extra time with the melodic line to emphasize the the lyrics, or he may weave a new melody around the old one, making reference to the orginal as he interpolates, embellishes.
The last time I saw James Taylor I was right out of high school and it was all about the music and the excitement of going to my first really big concert. This time the experience was colored by the perspective of middle age--understanding how time passes, people age, things change. We can't go back.
"The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time..."