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Loving classical music – unabashedly

I love classical music.

Unabashedly.

I’ve loved classical my whole life. My aunt used to tell a story about my four- or five-year-old self: We were in a store once,  listening to some music boxes. The sales clerk made some comment about whether a kid would know the music being played, to which I promptly (and correctly) replied, “It’s the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’.” I was probably thinking, “Duh!” in my head.

I don’t know most rock or pop singers/bands, except in passing and knowing that there are a few things out there I like. My MP3 player is filled with classical, showtunes, some jazz, and a tiny bit of rock. I know I’m an oddball in that sense compared to my peers, but I don’t care.

One of my favorite quotes is by Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project): “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.” I like performing, listening to, and composing/arranging classical music*. No apologies made or necessary.

(*Yes, I use the term “classical music” in the broad sense of the term, not just limited to music written between 1750-1820. To the more pedantic readers out there – deal with it.)

I’m not alone

I stumbled across an article from The Guardian by Armando Iannucci that resonated with me, and touches on why I write this blog. This quote from the article sums it up nicely:

“Classical music has been, for me, the single most inspiring, most moving, most magical thread running though my whole cultural experience. It’s the art form in whose presence I feel most comfortable, most myself.”

Lori at a piano lesson, ca. 1983
Me at a young, impressionable age. I’d been taking piano for a year or two at that point.

I began piano lessons in either kindergarten or first grade. My older sister started flute the next year or so and, given that she had dreams of being a teacher, decided that she needed to teach me to play flute as well. At least that’s how I remember it– she might remember another version!

Behold, the clarinet

I went along to hear her play at a solo and ensemble contest, and that’s where I saw it: a clarinet. The instrument captivated me, and I knew I wanted to play clarinet when I started band.

I had a brief fling with oboe in seventh and eighth grade due to boredom (and extreme band geekiness), but returned to my true love in ninth grade.

In college, I finally got to play bass clarinet and a bit of contra, cementing my allegiance to the “dark side” (the low clarinets). While I still love to play the noodling-doodling lines in regular clarinet, there’s something about the power of the low beasts that’s quite satisfying.

Don’t dis my love

Because of my love for music, it does pain me when people dismiss classical out of hand. Yes, it can be pretentious. Yes, it can be boring. Yes, it can be difficult to know where to start. No one will love every single piece of music. But there’s so much out there that to not give any of it a shot because of the couple of “boring songs” you heard makes me sad.

“I’m aware that it’s easy to fall back on quasi-mystical, pretentious language when trying to talk about one’s experience of classical music, but that shouldn’t stop us trying. We don’t talk about music enough. As someone who’s never felt he’s had the technical language at his fingertips, I feel all I can do is talk about it in whatever English I have at my command. I want to emote about how I feel.”

This is another quote that spoke to me, and it goes to the heart of why I do this blog. I try to talk about pieces in a way that anyone can get, even someone who has never had any formal training in music. I just want people to hear the awesome sounds that happen in classical music and maybe nudge someone to explore more of the genre. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know the ins and outs. For instance, you don’t know the difference between a clarinet and trombone. What matters is that you have an interest in music. I want to share my love for music with anyone who’s willing to listen.

You don’t have to know the name of something in order to like it.

Sorry, Mozart

“I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I find I can’t listen to Mozart. I don’t dislike him, I’m just unmoved by him. I realise I’m in a minority and I’m intrigued as to why this is.”

Brahms is my homeboy
Brahms is my homeboy – visit Wacketees on Cafe Press for more!

*looks around furtively* I’m not big on Mozart, either. Similar to Iannucci, it’s not that I don’t like him, it’s just that other composers do more for me. Bring on Brahms, Ives, Arnold, Copland, Bernstein! I’m sure someone out there would love to revoke my Classical Musician Card™ due to my apathy toward Mozart. Oh well. Let them try. Like I said earlier, there’s so much out there – we don’t all have to like the same thing.

I once looked at one of the many Facebook groups for classical music. They made no bones about being elitist and had a list of Good and Bad composers. While I could understand quite a few of their choices, the fact that they had such a hard and fast list completely turned me off to wanting to join the group. Plus the fact that they seemed perfectly willing to ridicule anyone who disagreed with their list. Unfortunately, I believe those types of attitudes are what most non-musicians think of when they hear the term “classical music” and further cause people not even to try listening to classical.

TL;DR – Give classical a chance

Ask me questions, even if you’re afraid they’re “stupid,” and I’ll answer to the best of my ability. Check out local concerts by community groups. We may not be perfect in our performance; however, we’re excited about what we do. Maybe we can excite you as well. Encourage your kids to take up an instrument or singing. Swing by the classical CDs on your next trip to the library or look for the classical genre on your preferred streaming service. As a result, you may just discover how much you enjoy it!

(I couldn’t leave without linking to some piece of music, so here’s a performance by me on bass clarinet. Enjoy!)

Old Grumbly Bear - Bass clarinet and band

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Lori Archer Sutherland

Lori Archer Sutherland earned a Bachelor of Music in Theory and Composition degree from the Ohio State University and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She composes, performs, and teaches clarinet. She plays bass clarinet with the Crystal Lake Community Band and the Woodstock City Band, clarinet with Winds Off the Lake Woodwind Quintet, and is the founder and organizer of the Knock on Wood Clarinet Choir, where she plays an even bigger clarinet. Check out her site and podcast at tonaldiversions.com

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