Reflecting on Music, Variety and Risk-taking

I love music and I love the numerous varieties of music in the world from hip hop to classical, from Norwegian music to Chinese music, from Blue Grass to opera.  Like food, I have never met a music I did not like.  Of course, that does not mean, I have never heard a particular piece of music that I did not like.  Music is like anything else, there is good music and there is music one does not care for.  Karen plays music and is always more fond of learning a new instrument or taking part in a music jam, choir or sing-along.  She is a participant while I am an observer.  Alas, I have no talent in the musical arena and so I content myself with listening.

However, I think my listening style may be somewhat unique.  While others sip deeply from a fine piece of music, I enjoy listening to the same piece played by many different musicians and in many different styles.  I can sit for hours listening to the same piece played by an assortment of artists with a myriad of instruments, vocals and rhythms.

I find the creativity in how a piece can be played and the many different ways that a piece can be played to be fascinating.  I have sat and listened to the Ave Maria played by fifteen different artists and each one brings something different to the song.  I have listened to more versions of Carmen than I can think about.  From Bizet’s traditional Carmen, to the American Carmen Jones to Beyoncé’s Carmen, each version has its own virtues and vices.  Music makes the comment that “Variety is the spice of life” to be an absolute truth.  Today, I would like to illustrate this aspect of music with a song that I fell in love with called Malagueña Salerosa.   A short background on the song courtesy of Wikipedia:

Malagueña Salerosa also known as La Malagueña is a well- known Huasteco or Huapango song from Mexico, which has been covered more than 200 times by many performers.

The song is that of a man telling a woman (from Málaga, Spain) how beautiful she is, and how he would love to be her man, but that he understands her rejecting him for being too poor.

If, like me, you enjoy the lyrics to a song as you listen to it, the following is the English translation:

Graceful Malaguenan

What beautiful eyes you have,
beneath those two eyebrows
beneath those two eyebrows
what beautiful eyes you have!

They love to watch me
but if you don’t let them,
but if you don’t let them,
not even to blink.
Graceful  Malagueñan.

I long to kiss your lips,
I long to kiss your lips,
Graceful Malagueñan.
And to tell you, beautiful girl,

that you are stunning and bewitching,
that you are stunning and bewitching,
like the pureness of a rose,
like the pureness of a rose.

If, for being poor, you look down on me,
I agree you are right,
I agree you are right,
If, for being poor, you look down on me.

I don’t offer you riches.
I offer you my heart,
I offer you my heart,
in exchange for what I lack.

Thus, to illustrate my observation about variety and the endless ways that one can find variety in the world (for that is the real message of my blog), I have selected three versions of Malagueña Salerosa.  The important point which I see over and over again is that there is an endless variety in the world.  There is no limit to imagination, innovation and creativity.  Even the same song, can be performed endlessly and never be boring.  People often wonder why they should write on a subject when it seems that there are a thousand books written on any topic you can think of and perhaps now an additional million blogs.

My answer is that every one of us has a different and unique way of looking at the world. Your biography, your story, your view on ethics, your views on management or your views on child raising will be unique.  Just like your DNA is unlike any other DNA in the world, it is impossible for you to be a carbon copy of anyone else.  Even if you wanted to, you could not exactly copy anyone else.  So why bother to try?  The excitement we all bring to the world lies in learning to be ourselves.  It is a job I have been working on for over sixty years.  I sometimes think that there is a conspiracy out there to deny us the originality that we all possess.  We must struggle against the chains of conformity which are everywhere we turn.  Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery or the path to millions of dollars but it surely is not the path to creativity and innovation.

My three versions of Malagueña Salerosa include what I might say vocally is a “perfect” version sung by noted opera tenor Placido Domingo.  His delivery is masterful, his ability to hit high notes and low notes beyond mortality.  I have listened to Domingo and Pavrotti many times and while I enjoy both, I think Placido’s voice achieves a clarity unlike any other tenor alive today.  So please listen to a least a little of his version of Malagueña Salerosa before you continue reading:

Can you imagine a performance more hauntingly beautiful than that you have just heard by Placido?  If you wanted to copy or surpass his style and delivery, I would say it would be impossible.  That is why, our only choice in life is to be ourselves and enjoy our own uniqueness.  We must do what we have a passion for and do it as well as we can.  We can always improve ourselves but we can never be another Placido.

The next version is a more traditional version of Malagueña Salerosa played by three Mariachis.  This version has an authenticity that somehow I find lacking in Placido.  I can see this as being the “real” version that was song by the love-struck young man as he tried to win her love.  While Placido excels on the vocals, this version gives us a stronger set of instruments and more of the true Latino flavor that I find missing in the Placido version.

The third and final version of Malagueña Salerosa is by the Mexican rock band Chingon.  They contributed the song “Malagueña Salerosa” to Quentin Tarantino’s movie Kill Bill Volume 2 and a live performance by the band was included on the film’s DVD release.

You of course, will have noticed after listening to Chingon that they had no intention of imitating Domingo or any strolling Mariachis.  Their style is a blend of Rock, Mariachi and Ranchera, but they put their own stamp on it with their singing, tempo and beat.

I am not an expert musician and I could not begin to tell you why or exactly how each of these three versions differs from each other.  But while I may not be able to explain it, I can feel it as I am sure you can as well.  Like a good wine or a good meal, I may not know how to explain what I taste but I certainly know what I like.

I dread the thought of doing anything over and over and over again, unless it is for the sake of practice and to develop technique and ability.  Why continue experiencing the same thing, when I can savor and experience so much variety in the world?  Variety is one of the things I value most in life.  It has taken me years to be able to see how unique the world is.  No same old, same old, unless we are trapped in our minds and routines.  The world offers a smorgasbord of treats and excitement to those who are open to challenge, change and risk.

I leave you with one last short (1.5 minute) video which you must see.   If you have ever been afraid to experience something different, to go somewhere foreign or to listen to a new style of music, this video will help you to reflect on a life lived with no risk.  It is very effective at portraying the fear of risk but also the upside joy that risk can bring.  It is called Always Dare:

“No pleasure endures unseasoned by variety”– Publilius Syrus, 1st Century BCE

Time for Questions:

What variety do you experience in your life? Do you live a life open to variety?  How do you find “new” things in your life? What are your thoughts about going someplace new?  Listening to some new music?  Would you be willing to try raw oysters, truffles or pickled pigs feet?  Have you ever tried any of these?  Why not?

Life is just beginning.




4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Greg Gorman
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 04:24:53

    1. What variety do you experience in your life?
    Variety is an interesting word. For instance, one may season a steak with a variety of spices. On the other hand, one may vary their diet rotating their diet around steak, chicken, fish, and vegan. Each person has varied their diet and in their own way they have provided uniqueness to their dining experience.
    Continuing with this metaphor, the main component of one of these meals might be the meat. So too, the main component of one’s life might be their work, their family, or their avocation. The variety might be vacations, trips camping, pizza on Friday, cousins sleeping over, etc. Likewise with the idea of changing the main component of the meal, one might change his profession, get a divorce, or find a new avocation.
    Changes to existing behaviors always contain an element of risk. Everyone’s hope is that the variety that enters our life is deliberate and life enhancing. Of course, this is not always the case.
    In my life, I’ve had more than enough variety to insure that I don’t die feeling like I missed some grand experience. My experiences as a combat marine, school teacher, photographer, computer professional, retired worker, husband, father, and grand-father. These are the some of the major changes in my life. Volunteering to be a Sunday school teacher, Cub Scout Pack Master, Boy Scout leader, 4th Degree Knight of Columbus, Grand Knight, PADI Dive Master, etc., these would be examples of the seasoning that provide an exit to excitement when the main course becomes mundane
    2. Do you live a life open to variety?
    As illustrated by the above answer, I believe I’ve had my fair share of variety. However, I don’t believe in variety for variety’s sake. Sometimes change can have unforeseen and unwanted, and perhaps irreversible consequences. My avocation to become bilingual in French has yielded many experiences that have been very rewarding. And yet, I can’t help but wonder what my life would have been like if I had used all that time and energy down a different path, perhaps in a technical direction. Who knows what changes would have resulted from that?
    3. How do you find “new” things in your life?
    New things are like trouble. If you look for it, you’ll most likely find it, but most times it finds you. The rate of change happening in this society is so great you can hardly keep up. From social media, work environments, general domestic technological progress, medicine, etc., if you don’t make an effort to understand the “new” things, you’ll find yourself lost in land of magic. As a simple example, I bought a camera/microphone at Radio Shack this weekend so I can make use of Skype. See you soon.
    4. What are your thoughts about going someplace new?
    When I was young I couldn’t wait to experience new places and things. As life has gone on, I’ve become increasingly aware of the people who live in these places and the work that must be done to provide for themselves and their families. In this respect, I feel a visceral connection with my fellow travelers in this world. I care far less today about their mountains, their monuments, and their culture than I do about their ability to thrive in their environment.
    5. Listening to some new music?
    I’m not sure what you mean by “new music”? If you are asking if I ever change the radio from the oldies station, then I can emphatically say yes. I recently attended a show highlighting a tango band. Unbelievably good! I’ve listened to many forms of music, in different styles and different languages. I’ve tried to enjoy rap and hip hop, but its appeal escapes me. Although I am sure that the lyrics appeal to a great many people. I’m just not one of them.
    6. Would you be willing to try raw oysters, truffles or pickled pigs feet?
    I’ve done them all, and I made a very nice gelatin using pig’s feet.
    7. Have you ever tried any of these?
    I was grossed out when I was eating pig’s knuckles. I had to ask myself, “what is this all bout, you don’t have to eat these meat scraps; I’ve worked hard to be able to feed myself better.”
    8. Why not?



  2. Cheyloe
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 18:21:16

    Very cool post! Gave me a lot to think about. In the songwriting biz that I’m trying to get into, they say that whatever type of music you listen to, that is what will come out when you’re writing. Your reflection on variety reminded me of this. I always try to listen to a wide variation of things so I don’t get stuck in a mode or a certain formula. If I listen to Hayes Carll, I want to write slow, melancholic yet thought provoking folk songs, but then I skip over to the Foo Fighters and end up writing something fast-paced and heavy. Variety, in my own experience with listening to music AND writing music, has been very helpful.



    • johnpersico
      Sep 04, 2013 @ 18:49:30

      Thanks Cheyloe for the nice comments. I appreciate your taking the time to reply. I am glad you found the blog interesting and I hope ultimately useful. I have noticed that with artists and musicians, the more they study and look at other musicians or artists, the more successful they seem to be. Success in terms of being noticed and I would say accomplished. I wish you luck in your career but as they say “luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” John



  3. johnpersico
    Nov 02, 2013 @ 16:50:28

    Found this quote which I thought very germane:

    “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it” C. S. Lewis.



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