hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

June 20, 2012

Poor Tom's Almanac: Striking the right musical balance

Tom Vartabedian

Whenever I host a party, whether it's at my home or lake-side retreat, the menu flows naturally. I usually leave that business to my wife, who's much more adept at kitchen affairs than I could ever hope to become.

But I can't seem to hit the right note when it comes to selecting background music.

Do I play New Age? Or do I turn to soft rock? I'm an opera buff but many people do not share my passion for it, just as I don't care for their country or hard rock.

It depends upon the crowd, you say. The youngsters like rap. The middle-aged prefer nostalgia. The elderly seem to have an affinity for Big Band sounds.

So what happens when your party consists of three generations?

A recent family gathering sent my head spinning. My cousin wanted Neil Diamond. For all I know, he may have dated a sweet girl named Caroline.

No sooner had the crooner hit the speakers when the first complaint was filed. "Gads, that music is giving me a headache. Can't you find something a bit more soothing?"

"Sure," I said. "I have just the thing — some Yo-Yo Ma on the cello with flute mixed in."

"You want to put us to sleep?" said another. "Speed it up a bit, will you?"

"I got just the thing," an 18-year-old intervened. She went to the car and brought back Madonna, which nearly blew the roof off the house. Can't say I mind the singer, but some of her music tends to be a bit too raucous for my taste.

Other people seem to have the same problem. I cannot go to a wedding without some disc jockey blaring his amps over dinner. It's often so loud that I can't carry on a conversation with the guest beside me.

We find ourselves competing with the music and pretend to understand each other's conversation when really we don't.

It's one thing to become exposed to loud music at a concert, if that's what you really want, but not in a more sedate environment when music isn't the focal point.

I entertained a group of close friends and popped the question, "So what will it be, folks?"

They thought I meant cocktails.

"Music, boys. What's your pleasure? You name it, I've got it."

I own a vast music library, whether it's at home or in the car. I try to be selective in what I play when guests are involved. More often than not, I get complimented upon my choice. Just to cover myself, I have it all categorized.

"Play something relaxing," they suggested.

Well, it was so stimulating. Hardly anyone noticed I was playing anything at all. I sat there waiting for somebody to laud my musical aperitif, and one finally did.

"I love your choice of music," he said.

It made me feel like a million bucks because I take great pride in my culture and music is a very integral part of it. During ethnic occasions, I choose Armenian symphony music and people enjoy it. Maybe they don't get enough of it at home.

During an interview once with an upper-crust woman, she indicated that her favorite entertainer was Yanni. She didn't know if that was his first name or his last. Just Yanni.

"Never heard of him," I admitted.

"Oh, he's just the greatest thing to hit the musical world," the woman said. "Kind of a mix between New Age and jazz."

An hour later, I was at a middle school photographing a principal when I noticed this picture of Yanni on the secretary's desk. I was taken aback by the coincidence.

"You mean to say you don't know Yanni?" the secretary wondered. "I'm hooked. His music is so inspiring and contemplative."

I forgot about Yanni, but Yanni didn't forget about me. After being entertained by my niece at a barbeque, we settled inside before the mosquitoes got us. I put my head back against the sofa and was sent into tranquility by this music being played in the background. I couldn't help but remark about it.

"Some artist they call Yanni," my niece divulged. "Terrific, isn't it?"

At times, I do enjoy my music loud, especially when I wish to ignore the person who has my ear ringing with useless conversation.

That's when I wish they'd play Wagner. His music is actually better than it sounds.

The only solution at my parties is to find something that will accommodate all tastes and genres. If that doesn't work, I could always opt for a karaoke party or entertain the thought of hosting a sing-along.

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Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.