In Defence of Classical Music
The Moose is studying electronic music at school which has resulted in not so much a discussion about music, rather just me giving him a diatribe about how very very much I loathe and detest and abhor that garbage. “But Mum”, he said. “Electronic music was a revolution. It meant that people with no musical training or skill were able to make music”. He may have touched the heart of why it’s so crap.
My testiness has increased because the greasy young man that lives next door is rather fond of electronic music, which has enabled me to pinpoint exactly what it is about it that irritates me so much. It’s the repetition. Doof doof doof derdoof, doof doof doof derdoof, for four, eight, sometimes sixteen bars with only minor variations over the top. Some may find that soothing or hypnotic, especially if they’ve suffered a traumatic injury to the brain stem or are on a certain class of drugs. It affects me like a tiny flying chainsaw trying to very rhythmically escape my skull from the inside. It makes me want to smash things. Like next door’s sound system.
I will agree that classical music can be a little inaccessible, and there is a reason for that. The kind that you go and hear in a big venue is very complicated. It has been written by men (generally, there’s a whole other discussion) who have studied music for years and been immersed in a classical music culture often since birth. It can only be performed by musicians who have dedicated much of their lives to training on their instrument. Listening to it takes commitment. If you are planning to go to a classical music concert, and like all music (except electronic) it’s better live, listen to the pieces first a few times. The first listen will be a big blah of louds and softs and you won’t like it a lot. Gradually the patterns and the shape of the piece will become apparent. Then every time you hear it performed you’ll find something new in it and it will totally capture you.
My theory is that the kind of music most people listen to needs to be turned up loud because that’s the only way you’re going to be able respond to it – if it’s actually making your head vibrate. If you’re listening to classical music your brain will be so busy following the melodies and counterpoints and dissonances and filigree that you can be engaged with it without having to annoy the neighbours. Most popular music is like junk food. Easily consumed, easily forgotten. There’s a place for it in your diet, but if that’s all you’re eating you are missing out on those ten course banquets that are the classical canon. Yes, you’ll need to educate yourself a bit to appreciate it, but it is so very much worth it.
My favourite way to interact with classical music is to be involved in a performance of it. My choir (Sydney University Graduate Choir, click here) is performing Verdi’s Requiem next Sunday at the Sydney Town Hall at 3pm. Google it, you definitely will have heard the second movement. We’ve been practising it for months, and we’re now in my favourite bit where I know the piece so well that it is swirling within me all the time, not so much an earworm as an entire worm farm. I can’t imagine how my conductor must be feeling, he has to get to that point before we start rehearsing, then spend a few months extracting from us what he’s already hearing in his head. On Sunday I’ll be one of a three hundred strong choir, contributing my voice to a piece that is sometimes sung in eight different parts, sometimes in a gentle intense unison, sometimes screaming hellfire, sometimes a delicate lullaby. I can’t wait. If you can get there, book a ticket now (Ticketek and Seymour Centre), there are a few seats left. It will be an amazing experience for the audience, but even more so for the musicians.