I had no idea back then of Boléro's reputation as one of the most famous orchestral recordings in the world. When it was first performed at the Paris Opera in 1928, the 15-minute composition stunned the audience. Of the French composer, Maurice Ravel, a woman in attendance reportedly cried out, "He's mad … he's mad!" One critic wrote that Boléro "departs from a thousand years of tradition."
I sat in my living room alone, listening. Boléro starts simply enough, a single flute accompanied by a snare drum: da-da-da-dum, da-da-da-dum, dum-dum, da-da-da-dum. The same musical clause repeats 17 more times, each cycle adding instruments, growing louder and more insistent, until the entire orchestra roars in an overpowering finale of rhythm and sound. Musically, it was perfect for my ear. It had a structure that I could easily grasp and enough variation to hold my interest.
It took a lot to hold my interest; I was nearly deaf at the time. In 1964, my mother contracted rubella while pregnant with me. Hearing aids allowed me to understand speech well enough, but most music was lost on me. Boléro was one of the few pieces I actually enjoyed. A few years later, I bought the CD and played it so much it eventually grew pitted and scratched. It became my touchstone. Every time I tried out a new hearing aid, I'd check to see if Boléro sounded OK. If it didn't, the hearing aid went back.
And then, on July 7, 2001, at 10:30 am, I lost my ability to hear Boléro - and everything else. While I was waiting to pick up a rental car in Reno, I suddenly thought the battery in my hearing aid had died. I replaced it. No luck. I switched hearing aids. Nothing.
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