Sunday, January 27, 2008

If Classical Music Talks, What Does It Say?

I attended a performance of a well-respected local symphony this afternoon, and left the concert hall perplexed by yet another instance of my inability to appreciate classical music. Now, I will grant that this wasn't one of the best performances in human history. Most of the performance was composed by a modern composer (not one of the "masters") and it was billed as a family-friendly event, so many kids(including my own) were in attendance. But even with that in mind, I found the music itself utterly boring, uninspiring and forgetful -- a feeling that I get often when listening to classical music.

I can appreciate classical music from the perspective of the performers' technical mastery of their instruments. The instruments that comprise the classical orchestra are undeniably harder to master than the instruments common in popular music. While technical mastery is awesome to behold, it's not enough to inspire and move me. Why? I can begin to answer that question by looking at a few things.
  1. I was virtually unexposed to classical music as a child. Popular music has been my life's soundtrack since I was very young.
  2. I've never taken any sort of music appreciation class or learned much about the history of classical music.
  3. Classical music (in general) lacks lyrics. So much of what moves me in popular music is the story. I can successfully ignore some lack of musicianship if the performer successfully "talks to me" through the song. Without the lyric -- the story -- classical music tends to blur into repetition for me.
With those three points in mind, I'd love to hear from others who feel they can appreciate classical music as something that they feel in their soul, rather than from a more technical angle. What composers or pieces talk to you? Why?

I figure it's time that I give classical music a fair trial. If I'm going to banish it to the periphery of my musical universe, I should at least have a good reason.

(A postscript.....after writing this, I read a few pages of The Violin Maker by John Marchese. Coincidentally, I ran across this passage where Marchese describes listening to Gene Drucker's performance of Bach's Chaconne:
"I usually listened late at night, lying on the carpet in front of the stereo, high-tech headphones clamped on my ears. There were technical aspects of Gene's performance on the violin that I would probably never understand: the complicated choreography of bowing, fingering, vibrato and things like that. There were aspects of his sound that I might never be able to adequately describe, even armed with an arsenal of words.... Yes, it was full and ringing and round and brilliant and smooth and noble. It was even classy and aristocratic, whatever that meant. In the end, it was the effect of the sound, not its components, that became so important to me."
This is what I want to know....what classical music has an effect on you?

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