Recommended Albums #35


Ketèlbey: In a Monastery Garden (1959)

Most of us probably have strong feelings about the music our parents loved–either affection or revulsion. I look back as an adult at the music collection of my father with admiration: right up until age fifty or so he was buying and listening to then-current top 40 music, adding it to an eclectic collection encompassing every era since the time of big band jazz (one style he had little use for).

In every decade and in nearly every genre it seems he found something to like, and a scan of his albums and 45’s reveals his discernment of quality music: The Ames Brothers–genius. Roger Miller–genius. The Carpenters–genius. Herb Alpert, The Seekers, The Stylistics, The Spinners, Stevie Wonder, ABBA, Nat Cole, Bobby Darin, Jerry Reed, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell…the degree to which my father’s taste shaped mine is astonishing, and I only wish I’d told him sooner–like when I was shutting the bedroom door to blare my Elvis Costello records.

But Dad also took great enjoyment in what some would now call “guilty pleasure” music (although I’m sure he did so without guilt because to him music was never about hipness or cred, only enjoyment). Tony Orlando & Dawn, Sandie Shaw, Connie Francis, Bobby Sherman and Olivia Newton-John were some of the artists he enjoyed without shame. And I’m grateful that he was no elitist. From this I learned that music is for enjoyment primarily, and doesn’t need to challenge to have validity.

Thanks at least in part to my dad I know it doesn’t have to be Miles Davis, or Mozart, or Dylan to matter. And sometimes I drive around with ELO playing from my car because, whatever a critic or an ordinary hater might have to say, the enjoyment is the thing.

Which brings us (trust me) to Albert Ketèlbey. Although my dad’s record collection included more serious classical music, it was the “light music” of Ketèlbey that more often made it into the thick stack of albums the record changer would drop in succession onto Dad’s turntable.

Ketèlbey could be considered the Henry Mancini or Leroy Anderson of his time, his time being from about 1912 to the mid-1930’s. During that period the English composer made music that was more about charm than pretension, more about pure enjoyment than depth or so-called substance. And he was so successful doing it that he was able to retire to the Isle of Wight while still only in his forties.

In a Monastery Garden: The Immortal Works of Ketèlbey was the recording that the majority of the eleven kids in my family grew to love without realizing it at the time. It’s an album that was background music to our childhood years, hardly noticed, but has become dear to us since our dad passed on, as nostalgia for those innocent years grows.

Perhaps this album’s particular attraction for us among my dad’s many records is due to the built-in nostalgic feel of Ketèlbey’s melodies. That’s the magic of Ketèlbey’s impressionistic music: He didn’t rigorously adhere to authentic Persian or Egyptian styles in writing songs like “In a Persian Market” or “In the Mystic Land of Egypt”. “In a Chinese Temple Garden” doesn’t sound remotely like the music of China. Rather he immersed the listener in an imagined version of faraway places, incorporating such flourishes as birdsong, church bells, monks’ chant, and most importantly, hauntingly beautiful melody.

With no disrespect to the Bachs and Beethovens of the world, what Ketèlbey created is just as dear to many, especially in his homeland of England. There’s nothing “light” about the beauty of Albert Ketèlbey’s melodies.

Listen to: “In a Monastery Garden”

Listen to: “In a Persian Market”

Listen to: “Wedgwood Blue”

Listen to: “Bells Across the Meadows”

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dave
    Jan 07, 2013 @ 17:05:06

    What a great post. I really enjoyed reading bout your Dad and look forward to listening to the tracks tonight.


  2. Anonymous
    Jan 07, 2013 @ 20:51:22

    i see the attraction…Thanks


  3. Bobby
    Jan 11, 2013 @ 21:47:08

    Great music to listen to while drifting off to the land of nod. 😉


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