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A Kick of Classical

Although I listen to all kinds of music, a large part of my heart will always belong to classical. Of course, this isn’t the case for a lot of people, and here’s my theory why.

Reason one: Most people haven’t been exposed to much classical music aside from Mozart kitsch, bombastic Beethoven, or Christmas-time Tschaikowsky.

Reason two: The class connotations are off putting.

Yep, classical music is most certainly a conservative pursuit for the upper middle class on up, and most people listen to classical music for a sense of aristocratic edification, particularly in the US.

Because my love for classical music developed without any of these trappings, it took me a long time to realize this. My father listened to classical music, but he was just as likely to follow up Mahler or Handel with Cream or Pink Floyd, so for me there was no difference between a cantata and rock and roll. As I wrote in this post, the first time I remember really falling in love with a piece of classical music was when I heard a piano sonata played in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

Here are a few of my favorite classical music pieces these days. So give them a listen, dear Phantom Reader. Who knows? Maybe you’ll hear something that opens up your world.

I could never warm up to any countertenors until I discovered Phillipe Jaroussky. The man sings like a freaking angel. If you don’t know (and most people don’t), countertenors are male opera singers who sing in a trained falsetto. They specialize mainly in baroque music, singing roles written originally for castrati. A lot of these roles are difficult for women to sing because we physically just don’t have the same lung capacity as men. Since snipping off a guys balls just because he has a pretty voice has, ahem, fallen out of fashion, this falsetto approach has been a fairly recent approach to regaining the sound. I watched part of this interview with my lone ESL private student/friend yesterday (he’s a radio journalist for classical music in Berlin).

I thought it was interesting that Constanzo mentioned artists like Michael Jackson, David Bowie and the Bee Gees carried on the castrati tradition in the 20th century, which makes a lot of sense. Speaking of that, here’s Jaroussky performing a Bowie song. I’m not completely crazy about it myself. Classical singers almost always sound too clean when they crossover into jazz or pop (lord knows I know about that…) But, my dear friend, you of course can decide for yourself if you agree.

I’m working on a story right now inspired by PKD in which both Faure’s Elegie in C Minor and Jacquline du Pre (sorry, too lazy to add in the accent marks!) play an important role. I’m completely obsessed with du Pre’s ferocious-yet-playful style not to mention her tragic story.

I’ve also really gotten into Yo Yo Ma while writing the story (the cello in general is a major part of the piece). He has such a grounded, elegant sound. Love how he plays Bach’s Cello Suites.

Fact: Besides the harp (and maybe the French horn) the violin is the hardest instrument to play. String instruments in general are difficult because they depend so much more on a good ear and fine motor skills than any other instrument. (Btw, I asked our violin teacher why the violin is “harder” to play than, say, cello or viola and she said it’s because the violin sounds freaking terrible if you play it badly, and it’s so damn hard to play it well. The swearing, both clean and otherwise, is of course mine, not hers. I swear, my brain is half sailor 😉 )

Both my daughters play violin (I tried to talk them into cello, but no dice) and I also played for eight years in school. I actually wanted to play the viola, but I said the name so quietly when we got our instruments in grade school orchestra that the teacher misunderstood me and handed me a violin and I was too shy to correct her. Although I loved playing in orchestra, in some ways I never really warmed up to the instrument. But learning viola now would mean learning to read in tenor clef plus violas are expensive and I still have my old violin.

So I started taking violin lessons again because I love my daughter’s teacher and I have this fantasy of a little three part family violin-only orchestra someday (my daughters can eventually becomes friends with and/or date other string instrument players to balance things out a bit). Besides, it’s also fantastic brain training as I enter middle-age.

(Hopefully pre-) perimenopause brain fog, yo. It’s a real thing.

At it’s best, the violin is definitely bad ass. Listen to Perlman and Zukerman rip it up here. Damn!

Last but not least, I definitely am into minimalist classic music these days, a la Terry Riley (kitty and dollies, oh yeah!)….

Arvo Pärt…

and, of course, Philip Glass.

Now a bit of Berganza and de Falla to send you on your merry way.




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