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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Making classical music safe for students

    Justyn DillinghamEditor-in-Chief
    Justyn Dillingham

    A few weeks ago, I took in a classical concert at Tucson Music Hall. Despite playing the violin for a couple years and being a mildly informed classical fan, I had never had occasion to attend a real symphony outside of school.

    I expected to leave the concert hall with an enriched soul but an impoverished wallet. But I was surprised by how generous the student discounts were. Any UA student so inclined can get a terrific seat in the house for about the price of a movie ticket.

    The show, which consisted of Beethoven’s First Symphony and Mahler’s Fifth, was a delight. But I found myself wondering why my girlfriend and I were virtually the only college-age people in the house. Why did most of my fellow concertgoers look as though they might have partied with Leonard Bernstein back in the ’50s?

    Certainly there’s nothing boring about classical music itself. But it’s been packaged in such an unappetizing way.

    “”I just adore Beethoven! He’s so cheery!”” beamed my girlfriend after the first piece. Indeed, the music was notably cheerful, unusually so for Beethoven, whom I usually associate with the brooding melancholy of his piano concertos and the sturm und drang of the great symphonies.

    The Mahler piece, meanwhile, was a rambling, stormy epic that seemed to draw on all the pent-up energy of early 20th-century Europe. As the “”Just For Kids”” section of the Tucson Music Hall Web site puts it: “”Have you ever been in a really, really bad mood? Mr. Gustav Mahler probably was when he started writing the beginning of his fifth symphony.””

    As Bob Dylan would say, the show’s only sin was its lifelessness. Two hours is a long time to sit in an uncomfortable chair and watch even the most brilliant group of musicians in the world sit in uncomfortable chairs and move their arms back and forth.

    As I sat there, enjoying the performance, it seemed to me that there was something almost criminal about restricting such great music to stuffy concert halls. Certainly Beethoven, the epitome of the disheveled, anti-social genius, seems out of place in such surroundings.

    Why not sweep the hall clean of all those chairs and make it into a dance hall? The Beethoven composition would certainly lend itself to ballroom dancing, and the Mahler, with its sharp twists and tricky turns, all but begged for some kind of physical movement.

    A small innovation like that could make classical music cool again. After all, the music isn’t the only thing you’re attending when you go to a classical concert. You’re also taking in the classy surroundings and the regal atmosphere. Change the atmosphere, and your whole perception of the music changes. Of course, it also works the other way around: The right music can completely change your surroundings.

    My most vivid illustration of this was in an art class I took in high school. Not that I learned a thing in the class; I remember it solely because the teacher was the single crankiest person I have ever encountered. She could usually be found scowling over a student’s work and snapping “”Can’t you do better than that?””

    I remember the class as being unusually quiet, probably because most of us were smart enough to realize that she wouldn’t hesitate to fail a student for something like dropping a pencil. We were about as cowed as any group of listless teenagers could be.

    She would usually leave the radio on while we were drawing, and it was invariably tuned to the classical station. One day, near the end of the semester, the quiet was broken by a grave announcer’s voice announcing the next selection – the William Tell Overture.

    As the most familiar musical crescendo in history thundered away, a remarkable feeling swept the classroom. Students began drumming their fingers, humming softly and tapping their pencils. Soon no one was even pretending to work.

    It was as if the Lone Ranger himself had come to the door to rescue us from the clutches of our miserable warden.

    As the tune reached its frenzied pinnacle, our stony-faced teacher walked to the radio and emphatically shut it off. She glowered at us, but we weren’t fooled. We knew that in some mysterious way, we’d defeated her.

    And we owed it all to an 1829 work by a composer whose name none of us could have spelled if you’d paid us. I don’t know a thing about Gioacchino Rossini, but I like to think he was looking down and grinning his head off.

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