I have fallen into classical music really, sort of settled into it like a good leather chair or a comfortable pair of shoes. It wasn’t always that way, however. No, this young boy was into The Kinks, U2, Led Zeppelin, and Bruce Springsteen. I remember playing those Columbia House Records down the basement for hours. The closest thing I got to Classical Music was Jesus Christ Super Star – which I played obsessively, belting out the emotional ballads until my parents yelled to turn it down. But every once in a while, I would hear something that would deeply move me. The death scene of Willem Defoe in Platoon (which I later learned to be Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings) or the stunning soundtrack to The Mission from Ennio Morricone – these came at me sideways, stopped me for whole days while I (pre-digital age) desperately searched Border’s Music for the CD.
But something was happening to me, something slowly, deeply, something one equates to a religious experience, or love or death, a rooted thing that comes up from below, solid and transformative. My first real intentional swim into this infinite ocean was during my days in grad school at Kent State University, living in the small, musty married housing unit, turning on the classical music station WCLV out of Cleveland. I had listened to that station when I taught high school in Cleveland, and it was a fond memory, a sign that directed me back to a nostalgic past more than guiding me into a future.
It’s an acquired taste, Classical music. It’s much like a good novel or a good movie – it demands something from you. It might not go where you want it to go, or soothe you in the way you might want it to – some mellow background music, forgotten because it is intentionally designed to be forgettable. The problem with Classical Music, is that it is usually the best of the best over time, the greatest of the greats, and they did not write background music… they wrote music specifically designed to do something to us. And don’t get me started on the great artists that play the great music, or the symphonies that collectively perform at such a high level. Master Class Music performed by Master Class Musicians – this may be hyperbole, but how can this not – single handedly, transform a life, steal it, however briefly, from the mundane of this present darkness and transport it to something… better.
Twenty years or so later, the novice classical music listener that I am, as I make my hour commute to work (from just outside of Yellow Springs, OH to Capital University in Columbus) I listen to the WOSU Classical Music App. I am familiar with the soothing, erudite voices that introduce the music, have journeyed with them through the seasons (like Vivaldi’s compositions of the same name), and allow my mind to wander into the creative places it needs to go in order for it to be its best when called upon to write or think or speak.
I’m not a snob, and I want to be crystal clear: artists listen to everything under the sun, and know it, settle into it, and it becomes part of the creative process. Mine has been classical music. Classical Music, like all great art humbles us, makes us realize how amazing the human expression has been over time. It’s profound in its expression, and demands the listener to pay attention – a megaphone that screams out: “listen up! Did you see what I did there?”And more importantly, it shares its enthusiasm “wasn’t that exciting or powerful or somber or exuberant. Man! I loved creating that!”
If you have never listed to classical music, I encourage you to try it. Don’t worry about whether you get it or not – as if it is an exam to parrot back, or some sort of awful medicine you must get used to taking. Just listen. Allow it to move you. Allow it to take you on the journey that it was designed to do. Life is about experience. Listen to a Concerto, a Symphony, something you find interesting or moving, then Wikipedia the name, learn about the Musician, the time period. But music only works one way: it is auditory. It was intentionally made to be heard. Get into a silent place – your car, your office, an exercise routine – tap on the app and… listen. And soon, you will be riding a tandem seat bike (you on the back seat, the artist/music in front) plummeting down an undiscovered path. Some times it will be familiar, maybe quirky, at other times awkward, uncomfortable, maybe even sassy – but when you are finished – I guarantee you will be different than when you started, maybe not better but simply not worse…. and isn’t that the whole point of this thing called life?
2 thoughts on “A Classical Way of Life”
Thanks Greg. I hope others listen to what you’ve said here. Acquiring a taste for the good stuff may be hard for those never exposed but I hope not. I was lucky that my introduction to classical music was Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite on a stack of 78’s that I played endlessly when I was six because dad loved it too. Classical music and jazz were all I listened to till the Beatles and I have Martin Perlich to thank for introducing me to other world music when he was on WCLV and then his move to WNCR 99.5 where he introduced all us hippies to the possibility that all music from whatever source could move us to places unrealised. Thank you. Mick Natco
Well said, Nick! well said!