Since it’s Halloween, it seemed the perfect time to share this. I just returned from a visit to Transylvania. Yes, THAT Transylvania. Cluj, Romania, to be more precise. My late mother was born there, which means I have some Transylvanian blood in my veins.
Cluj is a lovely city (my Hungarian family uses the Hungarian name: Kolozsvár) — charming and easy to walk around. They have a lot of fun with the Dracula association, just as my family always did, but I did not encounter any vampires (family or otherwise). Instead, I met some warm and gracious locals who are rightfully proud of their city and their culture. I also saw beautiful architecture, ate delicious regional foods, toured the Hungarian Theatre, and learned more about the history of this faraway, storied place where my relatives once lived. I even drank … wine!
Recently, a friend posted something on Facebook that initiated a flood of replies from her FB friends. The friend in question is a prominent and highly respected professional musician, and the gist of her post was to express her “guilty pleasure” of loving a handful of well-known orchestral compositions. She sheepishly listed several of those familiar pieces, aka “warhorses.” To a person, we all replied with some variation on the same theme: don’t apologize for liking what you like, AND there are good reasons these compositions are well-known and well-loved. It’s because they are enjoyable!
The whole exchange illustrated a long running tussle I have noticed that can occur between people who are experts and, well, almost everyone else. (It’s not unique to the classical music world, either.) Maybe it’s a different way of looking at the world in general — some of us see the things we learn and experience as part of a greater whole or continuum, while others see the world in a more linear fashion, passing milestones without “looking back.”
So, some who are experts in classical music and are familiar with a vast repertory mainly want to hear music they’ve never heard before. They perceive those so-called “warhorses” as redundant, and unnecessary to hear again. They forget that few people have their level of expertise or familiarity with the repertory. It’s a normal human inclination — we assume our peers have the same frame of reference.
One of the most important lessons I learned when I started in classical music broadcasting is that every time we broadcast a piece of music SOMEONE is hearing it for the first time. Yes, even Bach’s BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS and Vivaldi’s FOUR SEASONS. They are beautiful, exciting, entertaining and lasting works of art, and people like them. What’s wrong with that?
I enjoy revisiting lots of things I’ve experienced before — not just music, but also books, movies, restaurants, recipes, and vacation destinations. I welcome the comfort and familiarity, as well as the anticipation of experiencing them differently on the next pass. I also seek out and enjoy the discovery of new things! I love the BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS and FOUR SEASONS, and I’m equally thrilled to learn about composers and music I’ve never heard before.
Which camp do you fall in? Are you someone who prefers the familiar or do you prefer to experience the new and unknown? What are some of your musical “guilty pleasures”?
My seatmate on a plane recently was a middle-aged man on a business trip. We struck up a conversation, which included the range of usual topics: jobs, families, home cities, and frequent flier status. When he heard that I am a radio host and trained musician, he told me about his own background playing several instruments as a young child and teen. He even expressed his hope to resume playing at least piano in the near future. As our conversation evolved, the man explained that he also likes to learn languages — he has been learning Mandarin (!) using a variety of programs, apps and, eventually a tutor. He plans to tackle Italian soon. And he enthusiastically promised to listen to Sunday Baroque!
It warms my heart to meet people so personally committed to lifelong learning and so open to seeking out new experiences. This busy person with many responsibilities MAKES time to pursue things that keep his mind nimble, feed his curiosity, and expand his knowledge. Despite a demanding job and challenging travel schedule — or perhaps because of it — he remains committed to his personal growth. What a great example he set for his now grown children, who are pursuing their own dreams and goals in meaningful, take-charge ways.
I believe this kind of open, positive attitude is an important component of a happy, healthy life. Rather than making excuses for why I can’t do something, I try to seek ways to do things I love, to keep learning and growing, to challenge and exercise my mind and body, and to broaden my horizons. They range from simple, low- and no-cost things to bigger “bucket list” aspirations. I try not to defer these important goals because I am keenly aware that “some day” may not come.
So I offer YOU this encouragement to tackle something you’ve been meaning or wanting to do — read that book languishing on your nightstand, pick up the instrument gathering dust in your closet or the one you’ve always wanted to play, learn something new (a language, ballroom dancing, knitting?), take a walk or run, write a letter to a friend … do that “thing” you’ve been putting off indefinitely, making excuses for why you can’t or why you don’t have the time or energy. Take a first step, whatever it may be.
And then … please check in here and tell me about it, so I can give you more encouragement!