Recently, a friend on Facebook was doing some challenge of what albums changed that person’s life. I could not do it because of my love of classical. There were no particular albums. However, there have been COMPOSERS that have. This is a response to that “challenge” thing my friend wanted me to address. I warn that any trying to read this may give-up due to how long and probably BORING it is. To any that may try to read this, YOU WERE WARNED! 😉
We start our lives being bathed in the sound of our parents taste in music or that of our environment and culture. For me, my father’s taste. Odd gutless sounding stuff to me (now). I felt embarrassed by it. Herb Alpert? While Rock was taking over the youth of the USA. THAT sort of stuff. Henry Mancini and other (to me now) odd sounding composers. Baja Marimba Band? Chet Atkins? I cringe remembering such. For a kid and then teen it was painful. The music of my father’s generation was the Big Band stuff but he never played that. It was puzzling to me then and now. Most of us carry the music of our prime in life around with us to remind us of our youth and energize us later in life. I wanted an identity of being able to tell the other kids I liked the rock bands of that time. I tried to find rock groups that were tame that I would not be yelled at for playing. I failed. I recall playing a song by a non hard rock band The Guess Who. My mother heard the singer singing, “Awful goddam glad”.
My mother never seemed to have a musical identity. I think that subconsciously from her, I grew a love of classical music later in life. My dad got her an old beat-up piano he put in our basement. Mom would try to play it while she washed clothes. There were music books with some pieces by Chopin and Beethoven I recall. She wasn’t very good but she tried hard to play. The main song she seemed to sing playing that piano was, “dammit!”. “Dammit”! As she hit the wrong keys over and over. I love her more for it remembering her doing that. It was a song in itself. A song of perseverance. Determination. A beat-up old piano was not going to make her stop!
I tried to be different by liking a band called, 3 Dog Night. It was just a weird different. They were not hard or edgy like other groups. They seemed “safe” but my dad still hated them. Hated them like other rock. Maybe he found rock threatening because he was a teacher at the local university. Sure he was exposed to the music of that time but rejected it as threatening to the world he lived in.
My big rock influence was a kid across the street. A best friend that, I realized later only thought of me as his fucking dog that followed him around. Billy was my age. He was “COOL”. Long hair, boots, tight jeans and black T shirts. The COOL look of the time. Taught himself to play guitar. Bought big amps and speakers and annoyed everyone with the loudness. Surrounded himself with a few rocker types. Looking back I see his parents indulged him by creating a padded room to blunt the noise. Rubber on the walls. He and his sister were allowed to like the trendy rock bands. Rolling Stones. The Who. The Beatles. Steppenwolf. I would go over and listen to them. Unlike my friend, I got heavy into drugs although I was never cool with the look of cool. I looked LOSER, I now think. A broken kid. Broken by anxiety and his dad often yelling at him. My hair could only be short. No boots no tight jeans no simple black shirts like Billy. Nope! I DID wear those horrible flared jeans that were the THING to wear back then. “Horrible” because bell bottoms and flared bottomed jeans were a bitch to walk and run in. The fabric chuff-chuffed as you walked or ran. Get a hall of kids walking in them and it got loud, looking back. A mass rubbing of jean fabric.
My older brother Steve had an influence on me with his music. Steve was in the high school band and or orchestra playing trumpet. HE WAS COOL. He knew the COOL guys. Athletes, scholars and musicians. I had tried to play the clarinet in school but was an utter horrible failure. My dad had bought a used damaged clarinet for me that was constantly out of tune due to warping of the plastic (learned many years later!). It seemed everyone thought it was me. It is funny and confusing to me now that I was in some school bands and music classes but NOW I have 0 knowledge of how to read and play music. It is something that I know I KNEW at one time but seems to have been shamefully thrown out with the mental ignominious garbage of my school years. Brother Steve could play music. I envied him. He was good. He bought and brought home borrowed record albums of classical. I have a vague memory of hearing Beethoven symphonies being played and being transfixed! INCREDIBLE! All those musicians playing together for one massive piece of BEAUTY! I have more vague memories of him playing a composer named, Gustav Mahler. HE was a life changer! Such genius! So much complexity and depth. Passion! It was as-if god was a composer of music to me.
I went through my own Wilderness of life for a long time. Barely graduated high school. Worked various jobs then my father helped me get a factory job. After a year there my sister helped me get out of my father’s house where she joked once, she feared my dad and I would kill each other 😉 My musical taste was the rock of my youth and of THAT time. It is often embarrassing to note what groups I liked. I DID indulge my curiosity about classical music starting with the basic GODS of classical: Beethoven, Mozart,Bach and Haydn. I Bought boxed sets of their music. I learned of others. Mahler of course. Brahms. Tchaikovsky. Bruckner. I learned about the composers by reading blurbs about them here and there. Learn of a big name composer, buy his works and then read the record jacket about him. “Him” because there were very few female classical composers.
Regretfully, I introduced a coworker to classical music and he embraced it in a SICK way: He found one radio station that played it and HE PLAYED THAT INSANELY LOUD AT WORK! Radio classical music plays in a predictable limited loop. Or so it did back in the 1980’s. I CRINGED hearing it! I hated it the same thing over and over. I put away MY OWN classical music collection and tried to shut-out the baroque-heavy radio station that my coworker played. Things changed for me when he got fired. It was a huge relief to me. After a few weeks I could listen to classical music again. Things had changed technologically: Albums had faded out and CD’s replaced them. Computers, too. The internet. I started collecting CD’s of classical. It was a journey of discovery. Discovery of GENIUSES. Self-education. Learning what kinds of classical I liked. At that time in the 1990’s and early 2000, I had started with the biggest well known names in classical and then reached out to find others, lesser known. I felt contempt for opera because it was all screaming and yelling to me. That cliché of a fat woman screaming. I tried to like and quartets and quintets. Nope! Did not work for me. Even though many find classical music generally boring and dreary, that is how I found the small groups of musicians gathered playing a piece. I discovered WHAT instruments I liked most as solo works: Woodwinds yes. Brass, no. Piano, yes. At first I disliked solo violin then grew to love it. Cello? AWESOME! What made me fall in love with the power of strings was the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th. It embodies so much emotion. It can make you cry and be so damned glad you are alive just to hear it! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Les39aIKbzE ).
I must add here a reminder that I never finished college. I took a few courses then dropped-out due to panic attacks. I am not some high educated elitist geek. Over the years I found a music I liked then loved. I am blue collar but SELF-educated. I laugh about how some people are arrogant about classical music! I believe that for classical to survive as a musical form it needs to be de-arroganted. De-Elite. It is brilliant intricate often deep music but any person can embrace it because at it’s heart it is just like any other music: IT IS SOUND. It is sound that can be written down to be played by people in notes and chords. You cannot do that with rap. You can with some other forms of music. Some rock can be written down. Folk too. I recall books of guitar chords of rock and folk music. I am hazy and ignorant about how it can be written down. I doubt if hard rock can be. So much of that is improvisation. Correct me please for my own knowledge.
For me, classical music is an epic life journey of sound and feeling. DISCOVERY! I have literally CENTURIES of it to explore. As I sit here, I listen to Haydn’s Violin Concerto in C. Another exploration of sound.
I have found a fascination with the LIVES of the hundreds if not thousands of composers of classical. Such rich often tragic lives. Take for example that of so many geniuses cut-off in their prime by disease or tragedy. Recent example is that of Marcel Tyberg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcel_Tyberg) He could have been a giant in the music world but was burned in the ovens of Auschwitz instead! He wrote 3 symphonies, 2 of which were saved and recorded in the past few years (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRcq_m8gyug). There have been few women classical composers but my favorite is a French composer named, Louise Farrenc. I fell in love with her 😉 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louise_Farrenc). She wrote 3 symphonies and at that time of her life in the mid 1800’s it was quite a feat! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZeYHeXnNdo)
Europe was filled with Nationalist flavors of music. Case in point to me is that of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak who imbued much of his music with tunes I understand he absorbed from the peasant folk. I believe he is mostly known for his 9th or “New World” symphony.
Classical is flavored with WHERE the composers lived and created. Dvorak in middle Europe and then there was the great Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Sibelius). He wrote 7 symphonies. All in stark contrast to Gustav Mahler’s . Sibelius Violin Concerto is an incredibly beautiful piece to me (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITTbY1n3Iz8) You don’t have to be some fancy dressed elitist coughing in an audience to enjoy it 😉
One of my favorite Cello concertos is by Nikolai Myaskovsky. The first movement of his Cello Concerto in C seems full of pain and tragedy, depression and so much … LIFE! It is in it’s own way beauty incarnate (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqNWSM7fcCE) It is a piece that when I hear it, I have to listen to that first movement again.
For me, there is so MUCH to discover in classical music. There are nationalistic styles to like or dislike. There is very little AMERICAN I like but do like some (Copland for one and another rather odd choice is Louis Gottschalk!). You can dive in to Russia for some wonderful what I think of as “flavors”. Shostakovich!
There are so many names I could drop but have not. It gets to be a bit pretentious. The many names are what make classical so fascinating and fun for me to explore. A richness a wealth!
Part of that discovery, that journey that wealth (and poverty I have incurred collecting it) has been that of a recent (past few years) discovery that I actually LIKE OPERA! Like all “Classical” there are composers and compositions, styles we like and dislike. I forced myself to listen to Mozart’s operas as an introduction to opera and found I liked it. Since I had a collection of Haydn’s work I tried and liked HIS operas. I was late to trying and like Wagner’s operas fearing it would be too heavy for me. Hmmm yes and no. I still like it but it IS heavy stuff. My favorite operas are those created by Italians. Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini. I don’t think I know a single word of any other language but I love the SOUND OF MANY OPERAS! I tried to like Strausses operas but that “fat lady screaming” was so much in his works. It is again, what you LIKE or do not like to hear. I am not one to say who was better or greater. The thing people miss about classical is that it IS ABOUT WHAT YOU LIKE… and to me? Damn the critics! Here is the one symphony by a little known Finnish composer that died age 22 of tuberculosis. One can wonder (as I have) if his first and only symphony was so good, what could he have accomplished had he lived longer?(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Mielck) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDf6HVO0Owk) He was only 22 and in the span of 4 years he created such beauty.
To me, classical music is about pleasurable sound. It can be moody and low and it can be dissonant. So much modern classical is jarring and unpleasant to me. A modern film score writer (I do not remember his name now) said that film score music is modern classical. I have to sadly agree with him. Composers write music that fits and elevates the film. A symphony will often be in parts and often like or telling a story. A film score follows and enhances a story.
I used-to be and probably still am an alcoholic. I gave it up. In my youth I loved drugs. I have come to realize that have an addictive personality that I fight. These days I seek a positive addiction and find that in classical styled music. My own liking of some of it. Not all. That is like all music. We like some we dislike others. I dislike most other forms of music. Rap is not a musical form to me. It may be an art form but it is not music. Some dislike or hate classical. I read that some shop keepers in some cities play classical music to make pan handlers and homeless go away. I would probably stay and linger for a while. Until some baroque crap was played 😉 See? I have a general liking of classical but do not like it all. You can like Country or Techno but you do not like it all.
I feel that classical (or what I listen to) is good for my mind. The complexity of it. I will listen to rock at work to block out the noise of other people’s radios or playlists played LOUD! (Always).
When I see a kid walking home from school with what looks like an instrument case, I smile inside. I would love to tell the kids that what they are going through is great. There is greatness in the bow of a violin; the mouthpiece of an oboe. There is genius in the start of learning REAL music. I wish I had learned and REMEMBERED music – how to read it and play it. For now, I will relish what time I have left by enjoying what others do and have done.
I have never had a “bucket list” and always wondered about such. Writing this I know what it is: To get out of debt some day AND to listen to and experience as much classical music as I can in the time left for me in life.
(Please note that all written here about music are simply my OPINIONS AND VIEWS. )