Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Emotional Spectrum of Classical Music

A year or so ago, I took my daughter to a saxophone recital at the University of Iowa that was being put on by a friend of mine who is getting her Doctorate in Saxophone Performance. As we drove to the University, I told Hannah to bring her notepad and pencil, that she had brought along for the ride, and challenged her to listen to the music and write down whatever story, words, or pictures that she thought the music was telling her about. I was so pleased to see what may have seemed boring to a young child come alive with life and meaning.

Today my two oldest children Hannah and Zach were with me in the van and we tuned the radio to a classical music station in the area. As we were listening I asked them to do the same thing, to listen to the music and imagine stories that might go along with it. I thought it was fascinating to see them react to the various emotions within the oboe concerto we were listening too. After a bit I asked them what they were thinking of. My daughter said something dreamy about dancing and human interaction of some sort (for some reason I can’t remember the specifics). I then turned my attention to my son and asked him what story the music was telling him and he emphatically and sincerely replied, “it was telling the story of when Sponge Bob made his first Crabby Patty.” Of course I wanted to burst out laughing, but restrained myself and just smiled at both of the children’s powerful imagination.

My point of sharing these stories is to encourage you to appreciate the spectrum of emotions that can be so powerfully and uniquely captured in classical music. I am not saying this to “diss” any other style of music (because I spend a lot of time enjoying many styles of music); however, it is amazing to me how the classical genre holds so much power within one composition to explore such grand extremes in the emotional spectrum. Just look at some of the best movie sound tracks. The contextually focused compositions, which are often orchestral, wonderfully capture the gentleness of a first kiss and the terror of galactic war. In the flurry of popular music, don’t forget to occasionally stop and appreciate the inspiring music within the classical genre. If you’ve always been one of those who finds this kind of music boring, try turning it up on a good sound system, closing your eyes, and see what stories your imagination can bring to life.


Vitamin Z said...

Here is what my 3 year old son likes:


scooterpastor said...

Z, your kids are so unbelievably hip! I can see little Taylor doing the T-rex stomp to these songs.

jenni said...

that's a cute story. i like hearing stories of other families doing stuff like that together. i have a daughter who's 4, she loves to make up her own words to songs and dance, dance, dance!!

Anonymous said...

I am not surprised at your son, Zach's response. Cartoons, for years, have been set to classical music. My first exposure to classical music was Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons. Disney does that as well. Jboats

Brian Bailey said...

I'd like to chime in on this, being mainly a "classical" (that word will have to do until someone finds a better word for it) musician. I like Scott's stories very much, though I'm going to go in a different direction. The emotional content of a lot of music isn't immediately apparent, and the riches of great music of various kinds can only be mined with repeated hearings, especially if the style is unfamiliar.

Case in point: When I was 15 years old I attended a concert by a very fine college choir. Almost all the music was unfamiliar to me and some of it seemed distant or confusing to my immature ears. Yet somehow I knew I was hearing great performances of great music in a variety of styles, from Renaissance to folk and spirituals. There was a depth that I could sense, even though I couldn't sort much of it out or bring it into focus. And yes, there were also aspects of it that were instantly gratifying. If anyone had asked me back then, I might have said the concert was "OK," lacking the vocabulary to say more.

BUT...the same concert was broadcast on the radio a few weeks later, and I recorded it and started listening to it now and then. Over time, I gradually "got it," including the emotional qualities of the music. I now listen to that same recording several times a year because I like it so much (I've made a duplicate tape, BTW), and 25 years later I'm STILL hearing new things in the music and still learning from the skill of the conductor and singers. So yeah, it was a pretty good performance!

It is great to find music of any style that KEEPS ON GIVING. This could also be a parable, because our God is like that, but it's getting late...