When I go to a classical music concert I usually sit in the lower balcony. From there I can gaze down upon a sea of gray-headed folks (much like me) with just the smallest smattering of young folks mixed in here and there. What a shame.
I hit high school at the onset of rock and roll, which I still enjoy to this day. In fact I love music of all types — jazz, blues, Latin and country. Okay, so rap escapes my interest. Can’t be perfect.
But over the years I have grown to love classical music best. Don’t get me wrong there is a ton of emotionally washed out classical compositions, mostly under the heading of incidental music, and some twentieth century creations that would give Spike Jones a run for his money in crazy nothingness.
But there are hundreds of dozens of masterwork compositions by the likes of Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and many, many other wonderful composers. So how is it that I, and others of the older generations, find such music so enthralling while most young people today are oblivious to its charms?
I suppose it goes back to what we were exposed to early on. When I was in the lower grades, we were very informally taught some of the sounds of the basic instruments that shape classical orchestras, using, I believe it was, Peter and the Wolf, a children’s work by Sergei Prokofiev. As a story was being told each instrument sound was used to represent a particular animal or character, I think.
Moreover, in my particular case, I received additional exposure because my mother enjoyed some of the more dramatic classical compositions like Tchaikovsky’s rousing Symphony No. 4 and Rachmaninoff’s romantic Piano Concerto No. 2. Then, too, I played trombone in the high school band, and every winter season we gave concerts in which we played excerpts from such classical gems as Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and we played mostly the same selections year after year until they were burnt into my brain.
It was, however, when I was in my thirties and starting to write American Civil War military history that my love for classical music kicked in big-time. The music as a sound background to my writing process was of a period that seemed to match and inspire my ideas of the subject matter at hand.
Today, unless a young person, stemming from certain unique circumstances, is intent on becoming a classically trained musician, there is little chance for exposure to great music within the cacophony of pop music swirling around the ethos. This is not terrible, but it’s like having grown up in the Midwest and never having experienced deserts, mountains and oceans, and being content to stay on the flat land simply because that is what one is used to.
Each category of music has its own appeal — the blues caterers to that down and out feeling, country expresses lost love and bad luck, rock communicates the rebelliousness of youth and rap speaks the poetry of the Black soul.
The beauty of classical music is the enormous range of unexplainable moods it can convey — tension, sadness, melancholy, romance, joy and grandeur — far beyond that of any other form of melody. What is more, so often one’s entire scope of emotions can be experienced in a single symphony or other form of classical development — the ultimate in sound perspective.
Unfortunately for today’s youth it’s hard to appreciate what one doesn’t know first hand. So it’s a “Catch 22.” With scant opportunity for early exposure there is little opportunity for appreciation. Now days, for most, classical music remains mountains, deserts and oceans unexplored. Except for some of us lucky old gray haired folks.