My friends will, upon demand, tell you that I listen to almost anything that manages to produce a singable tune. That’s a plain lie- I have no love lost for certain instruments, some pieces of music make my hair stand on end, and there’s nothing in the world that will convince me to ruin my ears with the “singing” of casting show participants. That aside, I am pretty flexible in my taste in music. Oldies, charts, techno, electro… you name it, I probably have at least a small selection of it. With exceptions.
My secret passion, though, is classical music. I love love love classical! There’s nothing quite like Brahms’ symphonies, or Beethoven’s, or Mozart’s- listen to the piece that’s listed underneath this entry! If you don’t feel like stepping into the light after a long, long, long way through darkness and despair, well, then you probably don’t like or don’t listen to classical. Or are tone-deaf. Or just… OK, let’s skip this.
Liking classical music as a teen is sort of like being the leader of the academic decathlon team- oh, wait, I did both. Alright, so it’s a surefire way of becoming an instant social outcast. Not that I minded, I had plenty of friends, team-mates, acquaintances and especially brothers and cousins outside of school. Still, being ribbed for preferring Mahler over Green Day was not conducive to the great experiment in socialization that is commonly referred to as school. No matter, I was in ecstasy every time I got tickets to a live performance of a classical music star. I framed and treasure Alfred Brendel’s autograph that I got when my brothers and I got to meet him after one of his concerts backstage. We were the youngest people in attendance at seven and five years of age respectively. We were captivated by Schubert and Beethoven sonatas. We had “sensible” comments on his handling of certain phrases. We loved his playing, even though it was shaky in parts as he was a very, very old man.
Part of my love for classical stems from starting piano lessons aged five (it was pure occupation therapy back then and quickly escalated into finding serious professors, training for competitions and playing every single time we saw something resembling a keyboard), part of from my parents having the most extensive collection of classical music CD’s I’ve ever seen outside the Virgin store in London. Still, I wasn’t raised on classical alone. My parents’ taste in music was as wide as it was eclectic. Hindemith might be followed by The Smiths, Oasis by a Bach cantata. If there was one “thing” in my home it was that there were no restrictions on personal taste. My brothers brought Evanescence and Green Day into our home, I followed with Corvus Corax and a couple more obscure metal/medieval bands nobody outside a very small following has ever heard of. My parents listened and adapted- and bought more CD’s. Our book budget was only matched by our music budget; if it meant we went around wearing last year’s styles so be it. None of us cared, we had our passions.
The one thing the whole family always came back to was classical, though. As varied as our personal preferences were, everybody loved it when a classic classical piece came on, something like Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto (go listen! Go! I dare you not to smile!). We would crowd around the stereo in the living room (the one that’s got the Bose speakers) and just close our eyes to listen. We might have been doing homework, listening to our own music, self-training, working or just reading. No matter what, we left it standing, lying, unfinished and came to follow the lure of the music. Sweet violin sounds, uplifting orchestra play, the swell and ebb of dynamic music- there’s nothing like this in pop. Even without the variation in volume, range and style that classical offers- try finding a rock/pop song that’s not “Morning Has Broken” not written in simple meter! Then listen to some Stravinsky and compare.
Classical has been my haven and my salvation. When I felt that there was nothing going right, that I simply could not manage life with the oddity that’s my brain, my inability for “normal” social interaction letting me despair at the mere act of talking to someone I wanted to, maybe, be a friend I would flee to the soaring, ephemeral notes of a Mozart opera, or take refuge in the deep earthiness provided by a Bartok piece. Either I played myself or I popped a recording into my personal stereo. Today, when I’m stressed out from the job or feeling I’m losing my defenses against overwhelming recall I rush from the office to the nearest electronics superstore (one is very close, fortunately) and play some Chopin on the Silents there for all I’m worth.
These holidays showed me how much my accident has taken from me. Residing in the same house as my brothers (who I was once playing on the same level with) has made it painfully clear that I will never, ever get full strength and dexterity back in my once dominant hand. The grand piano at my grandparents’ house saw constant use as we rediscovered old favorites, competition set pieces, four-handed piano sonatas we played together… I tried my best to keep up but I just physically couldn’t. My wrist gave out far before any of us were ready to quit, and I was relegated to the job of page-turner and listener. Trying not to show how much I minded was one of the hardest tasks these days. I do mind- a lot. I mind that I can’t play Schubert’s sonata in A (D 959 for those who want to know) anymore without being in pain after. I mind that playing even the most basic Godowsky/Chopin from his 53 Studies is beyond me now (not to mention the Badinage, my once favorite piece from that collection. I practiced close to a year to play that one!). I mind that I know that there’s no chance I will every regain what’s lost.
Yet even this set-back can’t keep me away from classical and playing the piano and the violin. I staggered through an arranged Bach concerto on the violin before Christmas, constant practice has enabled me to play it, though slower than I would like. My brothers are patient and as wonderful as ever- we lift each other up. It helps that we never went to the same competitions at the same time, there are enough so you don’t get in each others’ ways even though you’re in the same age group. Competitions were a fun way of showing off, of wearing a tuxedo (I refused to get into a ballgown until I was almost sixteen) and white gloves, of practicing “emotional movement and facial expressions” in the mirror, of nervousness and accomplishment. Competitions were never taken seriously, win or lose what counted was that you played the best you were capable of. I believe this attitude enraged quite a few competition parents when we were regulars :).
Piano, violin, viola, trumpet, clarinet, oboe, cello, trombone, flute… these are just the instruments played in my closest family circle, at varying skill levels. This is one loud house, I can tell you! We play together and alone, but classical binds us together. None of our cousins share our love, but they play along since I’m the only one who’s really OK at arranging pieces for our weird mix of instruments, and I always choose classical music. We might jam a couple hours, but serious practice is put into classical.
Classical music is not only intellectually stimulating and emotionally charged for me, it is also the one thing I’m proud of having that not a lot of people in my generation can understand. It helps me show an “educated” facade to those Europeans who dismiss me on account of my heritage and manner of speech. It’s my pride and pleasure to take them down a notch if we meet up at the classical concert hall after work. Some of them just go there to be seen, and seem not to be ashamed of showing off their sheer ignorance of the music they’re supposed to love to listen to. I can list a dozen students who would kill for their sixth-row tickets, but they stubbornly go there to sleep and paraphrase the booklet. Ouch.
So, snooty, “educated”, elating or simply available, give classical a chance. Don’t dismiss it as stuffy because it has been deemed thus by generations before you. Embrace the music. Tune up your mind! After all, it’s been proven that classical music improves intellect, even if that’s only in appearance. Give it a try!
Listening to: Brahms, Johannes – Symphony No.1 in C minor – IV. Adagio, Piu Andante, Allegro non troppo