One of the staple Cincinnati department stores, Swallen’s opened in 1948 and finally closed for good in 1995. Each store had multiple departments and one of their most popular merchandise lines was stereo components and speakers. As such, their record department was extensive and well-stocked.
Today I’ve been listening to the record collection of a friend of mine. She is selling her albums, like so many these days, who may even have a turntable and speakers, but just don’t get around to doing what it takes to hear the vinyl playing.
And then I came across this album.
As I listened to this gorgeous music, images came into my mind of my friend shopping for this album.
She has a rare moment alone to duck into Swallen’s to pick up light bulbs or spray starch or new measuring cups since hers melted on the stove last weekend when she was momentarily distracted.
She usually just grabs what she needs in the store and leaves, but today the record department is playing music she loves and she steps into her own magical mystery tour just waiting to take her away.
She flips through albums, pausing at Hendrix, Dylan, the Stones — the soundtrack of this generation who dreams of freedom and equality. But these artists aren’t what her soul is longing for today.
She looks around with a small sigh and spies the end cap where Glenn Gould’s Well-Tempered Clavier albums are waiting. She remembers author Madeleine L’Engle and her love for Bach, remembers that L’Engle loved all types of classical music but was particularly fond of Johann Sebastian and the intricacies of his preludes and fugues, very like musical weavings.
She notices the “10% off” sticker, which appeals to her love of a good bargain. She hesitates just for a moment, then makes a decision and places the album in her shopping cart.
That evening, when the children are quiet in their beds and the sounds of the day have faded, she slits open the plastic covering and places the vinyl disc on her Philco record player.
She closes her eyes as the first notes ring into the room. The notes become more complex and the motifs repeat and overlap, weaving the sounds together in harmony. She knows this purchase was right.
As the music fills the room, she reflects that even in this world that has way too much pain and betrayal and Vietnam and patriarchy and inequality, there is also beauty. Here. Bach wrote music that is lasting and enduring and beautiful.
She switches off the lamp and lets this music take her away to her nirvana.