Embracing classical music experience can transform one’s life

Vivian Leon - Director of MSIPC

Vivian Leon – Director of MSIPC

Vivian Leon

“I do not like classical music.”

I think most of us have heard this comment before. Many people think classical music is elitist, stuffy and generally boring. You may have attended many a bad music recital by your brother or sister, your cousin or friend who was not at all good at it. Those bad recitals may have formed your impression of “classical music”. So you stay away from it.

In actuality, you are surrounded by classical music every day of your life. If you ever go to the movies, watch TV, listen to popular music, or hear people’s cell phones ring, you may be listening to classical music. For example, everyone knows the nursery rhyme “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” The tune was written by Mozart in the 18th century. He actually wrote an entire set of variations based on that tune.

When we watch Bugs Bunny or Road Runner cartoons, we hear music written by Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt and Wagner. These were all famous classical composers in the 18th and 19th century. How about the powerful sunrise theme of the movie 2001: Space Odyssey? It was taken from Sprach Zarathustra written in 1896 by German composer Richard Strauss.

Fantasia 2000 actually has a listing of melodies throughout the film that were taken from classical music such as French composer Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals and Russian composer Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. French composer Ravel’s Bolero made the movie 10 quite memorable, to be sure.

How about commercials for airlines, cars and anniversary diamonds? United Airline uses American composer George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in all their commercials. And the most familiar tune of all to us old timers is the theme for The Lone Ranger, written by Italian composer Rossini for his opera William Tell in 1829.

A large number of popular songs are borrowed from the classical genre too. One of my favorites is “I’m Always Chasing Rainbow” from a melody written by Polish composer Frederich Chopin in the 19th century. Alicia Keys’ song “Piano and I” was based on a piano sonata written by Beethoven. Sweetbox’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” was based on the music by J.S. Bach written in the 1700s.

When you hear something that touches you from a TV show or the movies, do you wonder what it is? Why does it sound beautiful? Why do you like it? Just as you do not need to know anything about art to enjoy a gorgeous painting or how to follow a recipe to enjoy chocolate chip cookies, you don’t need a college education to love classical music. But in order to enjoy the experience over and over again, it can be a most satisfying pleasure to discover why you like it. The more you know, the deeper your enjoyment will be.

The secret is to listen. Try listening to a beautiful piece of classical music with full concentration. Close your eyes open your ears and experience what the composer put into his score and the performers into their interpretation. The texture will be richer, the colors brighter, the impact more profound. It will be a totally different experience than when you listen to the same music while you are engaged in another activity. You may even want to take a class in music appreciation to understand the intricacies of the parts and the forms.

A great way to listen with full concentration is to attend a classical music performance. When you are physically in the music hall, with no distraction, you listen with concentration. Just sit back and enjoy. You will find the discovery of classical music can be one of the transforming moments of your life.

Classical music is one of the glories of western civilization. It may include only one instrument, a small group of different instruments, a full orchestra or an entire opera cast in the hundreds. It will always be around because it reflects the culture of the human race through time. You may wonder why anyone would line up to hear something written two or three hundred years ago. It is because it has continuing cultural value, even in our multicultural society. Like the English language, it has spread across the world. You hear classical music not only in Europe where it started, but in Asia, the Americas, Africa, Australia and far corners of the world. Classical composers and performers hail from every country, every race and every background.

Classical music is not just for the elite, the aged or the stuffy. It is all around you, and it belongs to all of us. The more you learn about it, the more you will appreciate and enjoy it.