Letting my mind go with music…

I have a long and wonderful history with music. It really started while I was growing up listening to whatever my dad was playing on his HiFi. The “whatever” portion is important, as my father listens to a huge variety of music. I won’t go so far as to call him a fan of everything, but he is the ultimate musical experimenter. He’d read HiFi magazines with reviews of newly released music, compiling a list that then results in a shopping trip. I am too young to remember my Dad buying vinyl, but the CD shopping trips are the stuff of legend for me. My father owned a retail pharmacy and Mom worked with him in the business. The hours were long, leaving only Sundays for any real family time. So, once in a while, my Dad would get all four of us (me, my sister, Mom and him) in his gloriously metallic blue Jaguar XJ6 and drive to his favourite CD shop in Rosebank. We’d spend the morning, browsing for new music, tracking down stuff from his lists and ultimately end up going home with a ton of CD’s. The next few weeks would then be spent listening to all the new stuff. The genres included pop, classical, rock, female vocals etc. As I grew up, we’d spend hours discussing music and all other matters, with music on the HiFi. As I grew older, I’d also get to taste the red wine my Dad loved (resulting in my huge love for red wine today), all in front of the HiFi. This set the scene for my ongoing love affair with music, wine, electronics and cars. My dad is also a firm believer in owning a “proper” HiFi. He selected an amplifier, CD player, record player and speakers after endless reviews and auditions. The result is a system that sounds bloody brilliant, to this day.

I grew up playing piano and classical guitar as instruments. I sang in a regional youth choir, resulting in my first trip overseas when I was 17. Music and its associated equipment and activities shaped my life in a big way. When in love, I’d spend hours on the thick carpet in the HiFi room, on my back, Sennheiser headphones on while listening to soppy love songs. In times of turmoil, Nirvana would be in the CD tray. To this day, my mood can be expressed or set by music. While a man of mediocre playing and vocal talent, my love for music never faded. As I sit here, I am in front of my own HiFi, listening to a variety of classical music on the Deutsche Grammophon label, all conducted by Herbert von Karajan. My dual 10″ Tannoy’s are singing, driven by a bi-amped and bi-wired setup.

Today my love for music is as strong as ever. My instrument playing is limited to the occasional tickle of my Stratocaster guitar, and I rarely sing these days. But listening to music while thinking, writing, reading etc consumes vast amounts of my time. The way my brain can make all sorts of weird and wonderful connections, stimulated by music, is amazing. I use this to stimulate the creative side of my day job. Music transports me to a place where my mind roams freely, unencumbered by the constraints of daily life, accessing the deep regions where weird and wonderful things happen.

The way I access music has certainly changed too. With a background in electronic/computer systems engineering, I love the electronics as much as the music reproduced with them. My vinyl collection has grown at a steady pace, especially after I took over my dad’s turntable and vinyl collection. The NAD 533 turntable (an OEM version of the famous Rega Planar 2) was serviced, fitted with a new motor, cartridge and properly set-up on a heavy plinth. A Rega Phono stage connects the turntable to the rest of my HiFi. Because of the ease of access with digital music, I bought a dedicated headphone amplifier with built in Digital to Analogue converter, driven through a vintage vacuum tube (to soften the hard digital edge a bit). This is used at my desk, powering a variety of Sennheiser, Grado and JBL headphones (selected based on what I am listening too). Spotify, iTunes, Linn Records and HDTracks.com are all places where I buy my digital, high-resolution music. Finally, bringing the music to lif at home, is a set of Tannoy Saturn S10 Dual Concentric speakers. Their ability to reach low and deep is amazing. You need that ability when you listen to Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio for Organ and Strings in G minor, else the bottom registers of the organ simply disappear.

Today I lament the state of live music in South Africa. It seems to me that the days of being able to go and listen to a full scale, live symphony orchestra are gone. I cannot even remember the last time that I saw a symphonic orchestra live, playing pieces by Dvorak, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Beethoven and Mozart. Luckily I have vivid memories of doing that with my parents. I’ll never forget my first time, hearing the full orchestra in full cry, experiencing the full stereophonic effect with the strings and percussion bringing the music to life.

My own musical journey has brought me closer to certain types of music. As I started listening to older, classic rock bands, I moved closer and closer to Blues. As I moved closer to Blues, I started discovering Jazz (still not a favourite) and other genres. Today I firmly believe that the best stuff is not what plays to mainstream audiences via mainstream media. There is a world of music far removed from the mainstream, where true art lives and thrives. But to experience this world you need an open mind, the drive to discover and the ability to open yourself completely to new experiences. Do that and a wonderful journey of musical discovery awaits!

Thank you dad, for introducing me to this amazing world.

About Thomas Lee

I am a technology entrepreneur, father of two young boys, and husband to Mari. Love technology, audio and stuff with wheels.
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  1. Because of you I was introduced to Spotify, an application I use now daily and have introduced 10’s of people in the last month. So thank you Thomas as I now get introduced to new music every day and have found a new joy in aligning music to my work activity and state of mind.

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