Call them what you like.
Resolutions. Hopes. Dreams.
How about brushstrokes in the art of possibility?
I’m convinced that music has magical powers and that you don’t need a degree to fall deeper under its spell.
Here are five ways to cozy up to classical music in the New Year.
- Watch it made on the big screen (or the biggish screen in your living room).
Have you seen Amadeus? Immortal Beloved? Hugh Grant as Frederic Chopin in Impromptu? Yes, most of these films are wildly inaccurate. You know that already. So take a bag of salty popcorn to the couch and read up later to separate fact from fiction. There’s nothing like a period movie to give you a feel for a time and place. Here's a list of possibilities for you with reviews.
- Live in the heads of fictitious musicians.
Right now I’m halfway through a book I cannot put down called And After the Fire. Author Lauren Belfer won a National Jewish Book Award for this novel that begins when an American soldier takes a souvenir from a deserted mansion after World War II. A generation later his niece discovers it in a piano bench in Buffalo, New York. Is it a lost, anti-Semitic cantata by J.S. Bach? Riveting.
Other novels I can personally recommend include Sight Reading by Daphne Kalotay, an insightful psychological portrait of a violinist and the composer she loves. The Time of Our Singing by American writer Richard Powers explores the lives of African-American brothers growing up during the Civil Rights and Early Music movements. Set between the wars in Austria, Magic Flutes by Eva Ibbotson (find it in the YA section) charms with characters bound by their passion for Mozart’s operas.
Tip: Listen to music mentioned in the novel while you’re reading.
- Go to a concert and sit up close.
There are hundreds of recitals, concerts, and lunchtime performances in and around Rochester where you can literally sit in the front row and watch musicians move, breathe, and make eye contact. Most won't mind if you take pictures (though you should ask first.)
Tip: You don’t even need a ticket to experience music in an intimate setting such as the monthly classical guitar night at the Little Theatre Cafe. The next one is Sunday, January 6th, the music begins at 7:00 p.m., and admission is free.
- Pick up a biography of a musician who interests you.
Better yet, find a volume of correspondence. Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life (edited by Robert Spaethling) is your ticket to understanding a real human being with all his flaws and quirks. Other choices? Last summer I slogged through Jan Swafford’s tome-sized biography Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph and came away with a strong sense of compassion for everyone’s favorite “genius.” What a lonely guy!
Tip: Don’t want to concentrate on just one artist? The best short biographies I know of live in a single book, The Virtuosi: Classical Music's Great Performers From Paganini To Pavarotti by Harold Schonberg. It’s out of print, but still available online.
- Make it.
In an opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times, author Jennifer Weiner proclaims, “Being mediocre at playing the piano is exactly what I need.” Brava.
Making music can focus your attention like nothing else. There are literally dozens of choirs, orchestras, bands, chamber groups, and clubs that would welcome you and meet you where you are. Can’t carry a tune? Try dancing. Haven’t picked up the trumpet since high school? Discover the New Horizons Program. Keep scrolling for lists and ideas.
There’s nothing like the joyful magic of making music yourself.
Tip: Need advice? We are here to help you get started. Your friends at WXXI know about resources for beginners as well as advanced musicians in Rochester. Let us point you in the right direction. Email us at classical915-dot-org.
Happy New Year!