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Classical music’s future

Rumors of classical music’s demise are greatly exaggerated. As long as I can remember, people have been pronouncing classical music as dying or dead. But last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing a young violinist who doesn’t share that view. In some ways Michelle Ross has pursued a traditional path for a classically trained musician: earning a Juilliard School degree, studying Johann Sebastian Bach’s music from a deeply scholarly perspective, and making her debut recording of music by Bach on a borrowed Stradivarius violin.

Michelle Ross and Suzanne Bona

Violinist Michelle Ross and Sunday Baroque Host Suzanne Bona

But the twenty-something also took to the streets of New York to play Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas in some unlikely places: a firehouse, the Staten Island Ferry, and a soup kitchen, to name just a few. Concert halls are fine, but she wanted to bring live performances of Bach’s music into people’s everyday lives. So … she did. For her, the single most important thing is access. Give people access to the music, and it can change lives. She believes (and I agree) that the music speaks for itself. All these years, I’ve mostly ignored the pessimists, and Michelle Ross and her optimism renewed my faith. I hope you’ll listen to my conversation with Michelle Ross, and be encouraged by her message, too.

Listen to our conversation.

Party like the Founding Fathers

The “official” baroque era was 1600-1750. To put that into some context, George Washington was born in 1732, Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743, and Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706. They were all born during the baroque era! We know these men primarily for their roles as founding fathers of our country, but there were many other facets to their complicated lives, and music was among their interests. Benjamin Franklin was an enthusiastic music lover who played several instruments, and even invented one: the glass armonica. Thomas Jefferson described music as the “favorite passion” of his soul, and was an avid violin player who owned several violins and a huge library of music. And George Washington *liked* music a great deal, but only as a listener — he admitted he couldn’t carry a tune or play any instruments.

So, however you are celebrating the Fourth of July holiday, I heartily encourage you to choose baroque music as your soundtrack and party like the Founding Fathers! www.SundayBaroque.org/listen

An invitation to share your suggestions

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of interviewing a variety of fascinating people about their relationship with music. Most of them are musicians, including people such as pianists Leon Fleisher and Simone Dinnerstein, guitarist Sharon Isbin, flutist Emmanuel Pahud, and conductors Nicholas McGegan, Ton Koopman and Masaaki Suzuki. They shared a variety of poignant revelations about their triumphs and obstacles, stories about their early starts in music, and glimpses into their sometimes surprising musical tastes when they’re not working. And since even people who are NOT professional musicians are also deeply moved by music, I’ve also interviewed people such as journalist John Hockenberry and travel expert Rick Steves. All these interviews are archived on the Sunday Baroque website under the “Interviews” tab, where you can listen to them online or download them as podcasts.

As we consider future interviews, whom would you like me to invite? Is there a musician whose work you’d like to know more about? Is there an unusual musical instrument you’d like to learn about from an expert? Have you heard about a creative person with a good story to tell about his or her relationship to music? Is there a public figure you know of who has a private passion for classical music? Or maybe you would simply like to suggest some questions or topics to ask of the variety of interesting people I interview.

Please weigh in with your suggestions, and we’ll do our best to explore them in the weeks and months ahead. Thanks!

How do you spell “inspiration”?

A confession: one of my all-time favorite movies is THE WIZARD OF OZ. I love that the core lesson Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion all learn is that the things they wanted so badly and sought so tenaciously were already in them — they just had to recognize their gifts and believe in themselves. It’s a simple yet powerful lesson for us all, and it came to my mind again last week.

What feeds your creative soul?

Having dinner with friends the other night, the conversation meandered to activities that nurture our creativity. One friend is a retired engineer, but late in life he began art classes. He discovered he has a talent for painting, and he said, “Art feeds my soul.” He spoke passionately about the significance of having a creative outlet in his life.

Hi Ho!

A musician friend once joked that the definition of “highbrow” is hearing Rossini’s WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE and *not* thinking of The Lone Ranger. It’s meant to be a humorous observation, of course, and not a judgement. His joke popped into my head while listening to Maurice Ravel’s BOLERO recently. I was instantly transported back to my first job as a teenager working the box office at our local movie theater.

Thanks, Mom!

Although Mother’s Day is now past, it’s always a good time to thank and acknowledge moms who instill music in their children’s lives. Both my parents loved music, and they owned a substantial and somewhat eclectic collection of LPs (and some 78s!) they liked to play in the house.

What’s for dinner?

During a dinner party I hosted recently, there was a selection of recorded music playing for background entertainment. Throughout the evening several of the guests noticed and commented on how much they enjoyed particular musical selections. Ever since, I’ve been trying to pinpoint what it was about those selections that caught people’s attention in such a positive way.

Captivated by Music

A musician friend has been augmenting her busy performing and traveling schedule with visits to a prison to perform for the inmates. She plays classical music for these men, some of whom have never listened to this music in their lives. They are more than just receptive to this special treat of live classical music performances– they become hungry and eager for it, and in some cases they quickly develop a deep appreciation and passion for this music.

Happy Day!

Some of the holiest of religious holidays overlapped this year – the Jewish observance of Passover began one day after the Christian celebration of Palm Sunday and continues just past Easter Sunday. A lot of the music on Sunday Baroque is religious because the musicians in the baroque era often worked for the church, but our weekly musical gathering is ecumenical and inclusive. It’s a celebration of the MUSIC, and I hope each listener is nurtured and uplifted in a personal and meaningful way, whatever that may be.