It’s nothing but a simple waltz, part of the much larger and more ambitious Nutcracker, yet it’s arguably my favorite piece of music. When I hear Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers”, which I have several times this Christmas season, it produces within me a visceral reaction that no other work can produce. I must, I simply must conduct it.
That instinctual response got me into trouble in the fourth grade. My teacher, Miss Clancy, a caricature of a grammar school spinster (though she was probably only in her thirties) who held an unmistakable bias against little boys, played the song for her class – her attempt, I suppose, to inculcate us with an appreciation for the classics. It backfired, sort of. In a rapture of the joie de waltz that remains to this day, I began to lead the invisible orchestra in her portable record player. Miss Clancy didn’t appreciate my fledgling Fiedler fling. She punished my exuberance by making me stand in the hallway outside the classroom and conduct to an audience of lockers and amused passersby.
The trauma of that event has diminished over the years. (Not completely. I derived a twisted satisfaction upon learning that Miss Clancy later married and had a brood of boys. What goes around…) Despite Miss Clancy’s misguided discipline, my love for WotF and classical music in general has only heightened since that agonizing ordeal. In fact, I’m writing this in the afterglow of hearing the waltz, which was of course conducted by yours truly, the virtual maestro.
The other childhood memory the song conjures up is a cartoon that inspired my initial love for the piece, an animated story presented to the tune of the magnificent music. The original animation appears to have disappeared over the years, but I found a reading of the story on YouTube here.
It involves a pack of mice who disguise themselves as flowers and waltz safely past a crowd of ravenous cats. The music was a life-saver then and a life-enhancer now.
If you know where I can see that cartoon, let me know. Every child should see it.
Keep waltzing and keep conducting… no matter what the Miss Clancys of the world do.