Classical Music for All

When you ask non-classical music lovers why they are not fond of classical music, the most common answers include “I am not intelligent enough to appreciate it”, “I don’t know music theory” and “it’s so boring”. However, does it really take an intellectual to appreciate the beauty of classical music? (A short answer would be: NO, by looking at the author of this article.)

It is probably true that learning music history and theory helps one understand the context and features of a composition better. However, the emotional response provoked by classical music is – like knee-jerk reflex – something innate and not acquired through learning. I guess you won’t want me to go deep into the neuroscience behind, so I will illustrate this by several examples.

Spend a quiet night listening to this heartbreakingly beautiful piece of music by Russian composer Rachmaninoff. (Even a pair of inexpensive earphones will do.)

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Symphony No.2 – 3rd movement: Adagio

There is a strong sense of nostalgia and longing throughout the piece and the music would dig up some past memories from your mind, no matter fond ones or not. The intense yearning in the music contains endless reminiscences, evoking an inner eruption of emotions – some may say affection, some may say despair… Our interpretations of music, no matter classical or not, are of course affected by our personalities and personal experiences. However, I am pretty convinced that we all feel “something” from the music. And is it necessary for us to analyse its instrumentation, use of harmonies and form in order to be engaged in the music?

After something rather emotionally intense, let us switch to a more tranquil composition by Michael Conway Baker.

Michael Conway Baker: Elegy for Flute & Organ, Op. 21

The warm sound from the organ, coupled with a simple melody by the flute, immediately creates peace and calmness. It takes us away from the troubles in reality and evoke a complex combination of emotions: a mixture of sorrow and optimism, like a gleam of hope in the midst of darkness.

For those who say classical music is boring, this piece is a must-listen.

Rossini: William Tell Overture – Finale

The energetic vibe and rhythmic vitality of this piece actually makes it a perfect solution to tiredness. Indeed, it is hard not to stamp your feet when listening to such an exhilarating piece of music!

There is inevitably some repertoire in classical music that requires some more musical knowledge to really comprehend and appreciate it (especially contemporary ones). Still, classical music is definitely not something just for knowledgeable people. Leonard Bernstein once said, “Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” Hackneyed though it may sound, classical music has the ability to heal, conjure up our deepest emotions and enrich our lives in different ways.

So, if you are a classical music lover, please share this with your non-classical music lover friends. If you are a non-classical music lover, please take some time to listen to the music and hopefully you will be convinced.

By Anson Yeung. Republished with permission from Interlude, Hong Kong.