Brand new old favorites
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!
Today we mark a terrible, somber anniversary. We humans seem to naturally want to mark the passage of time in one-year increments -- we celebrate anniversaries of weddings, births, new jobs and other happy occasions. We also mark anniversaries of sad and tragic things -- deaths, losses, and shocking events. For these anniversaries, we remember a variety of details: where we were, what we were doing, how we found out, who we were with. The smells, sounds, and sensations we experienced become part of the tapestry woven into our memories. The promise to remember both happy and horrifying memories is also part of the ritual. Seventeen years ago today, I was sitting at my desk listening to music and working on Sunday Baroque when I heard the news that changed the world forever. I sat glued to the radio, called my loved ones, cried, and tried to mentally process the inconceivable, shocking reality of that day. And I listened to music. Today I'm hearing about how many friends and colleagues are recalling that day -- sharing where they were, what they did, and how they are holding the day and the anniversary in their hearts today. One thing about marking anniversaries is the shifting perception of the passage of time. In some ways, September 11, 2001 seems like yesterday because those specific memories are still so tangible and vivid, and still as inconceivable and shocking as they were then. How can 17 years have passed? In other ways, so much has changed in our world, so much has happened since, that it seems long ago and distant. Perhaps that paradox is why we mark time in one-year increments -- it gives a concrete measuring stick to compare to our fluid perceptions of the passage of time. Today, on this terrible, somber anniversary, here is something reflective, beautiful, and timeless to use as a palette for your personal memories. Peace. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA88AS6Wy_4
Creating Music Lovers
Everywhere you look lately, there are celebrations of the centennial of Leonard Bernstein. The legendary musician's work as a conductor, composer and educator left an extraordinary legacy. He would have celebrated his 100th birthday on August 25, 2018. You may be thinking: What does Leonard Bernstein have to do with Sunday Baroque? Well, he helped create and nurture generations of music lovers. He presented music and musical concepts using language and descriptions that anyone could understand, and he shared it with infectious passion and enthusiasm. This elite musician and scholar was anything but elitist when it came to his interest in and ability for breaking down barriers to understanding and enjoying classical music. His Young People's concerts were televised in the 1950s, long before I was even born, but many Sunday Baroque listeners STILL refer back to those broadcasts as pivotal to their personal love of music. Leonard Bernstein's daughter, Jamie Bernstein, wrote in an essay about her famous father, something that sums it up elegantly and resonates with me deeply:
Happy centennial, maestro! Thank you for opening up the world of great music to so many people. Thank you for inspiring so many by sharing your own curiosity and enthusiasm. And thank you for helping to create so many music lovers in the world.
People often say that Leonard Bernstein was a born teacher, but actually it's more accurate to say that he was a born student who just couldn't wait to share what he learned. In his whole life, he never stopped studying.
Today's Sunday Baroque show (7/29/18) includes some highlights about summer music festivals. No matter what genre of music you fancy, there is a music festival suited to your tastes. You may be solely a spectator/listener, or an active participant -- summer presents so many rich and rewarding opportunities, so many hands-on possibilities. I have a wealth of great memories of attending summer festivals over the years, sitting on a beach blanket or perched in summer concert venues enjoying world-class musicians. (And not necessarily baroque, or even classical performances!) As an orchestral and chamber musician, I've played my share of memorable summer festival performances, too. A number of my friends have attended summer festival camps for accomplished amateurs, or participated in intensive workshops that culminated in a performance at the end. Some of my professional musical colleagues have participated in summer training programs here and abroad. Perhaps it's the casual summer mindset, but the music seems to take on a different role and meaning at these summer festivals. It has extra sparkle and fun! Even when it's an educational setting, the tone is simply different in the summer ... more luxurious in a way, more convivial, and with more room to take chances musically. Are you enjoying summer music festivals this season? Have you participated in summer music workshops or classes, recently or in the past? Please share some of your memorable experiences of Summer music!
The Music of Silence
As much as I love music, I also appreciate silence. Or perhaps I should say I appreciate the absence of what we traditionally define as "music." It offers a chance to focus on a different, more nuanced layer of sound. Birds singing, leaves rustling, chipmunks fussing in the yard, rain gently tapping on the house ... subtle yet, somehow, profound. Add a layer of neighbors and their children and pets cavorting nearby, even the brief Doppler-ized snippets of music from other people's passing car radios, and these random sounds combine to create the effect of daily life on "shuffle." I love it! John Cage, the 20th century avant garde composer, famously "composed" a piece called 4'33" or Four Minutes and Thirty Three Seconds. He specified it for any instrument or combination of instruments, and the score instructs the performers to NOT to play for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. The music is in the sounds of the environment ... people shuffling, coughing, sounds from outside the performance venue. Cage was prescient -- he introduced the piece in 1952, long before we had as many sensory and media inputs as we do today. The concept has gained relevance and resonance as our world has become noisier. There is something comforting and affirming to me in the sounds of nature and the hustle and bustle of life. It feels like home. Those sounds of the world around me also give me another level of appreciation for the music when I turn on the radio again or pop in another CD. What about you? Do you find that silence -- or the absence of "music" -- enhances your appreciation of the music and the world around you? How you do find a balance that works for you?
The Music of Language
Did you see the fascinating recent article in Time about the connection between early piano lessons and language ability? http://time.com/5322121/music-lessons-language-learning/ The findings resonate because I have long had strong feelings about the connection between musical ability and facility for languages. While it's only anecdotal, I notice that many people around me with good musical ears also have good ears for language. (and more than a few people around me who lack a musical ear have difficulty with their foreign language pronunciation) For example, I have a beloved older cousin who regularly played piano from the time he was a little boy well into middle age. He also grew up to become fluent in Mandarin, Russian, Hungarian, and German. And I have always credited my own music lessons starting at age 8 for my interest in and ease in pronouncing a variety of languages. That facility has occasionally gotten me into minor trouble, too, because my native-sounding pronunciation far exceeds my limited vocabulary in some languages, creating some awkward exchanges. (That will have to be the topic of a future blog in the category of humor!) There really is a "music" to spoken language -- mastering the articulation, tempo, and rhythm of the words adds another layer of communication and nuance beyond the vocabulary and grammar. I'm reminded of the hilarious scene in the classic 1966 film THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, when the stranded Russian submariners try to pass themselves off as New Englanders, walking the streets saying earnestly, "ee-MAIR-gen-cee ... everybody to get from street!" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOZuLD1u_K4 The study in the Time article looked specifically at the connection between children who had piano lessons, while speculating that the music/language connection may well exist for those learning other instruments, too. I will not be at all surprised if/when greater connections are revealed between music and language. What about you? Did your early musical training help you with language learning? Do you hear the music in language, too? What did you think of the Time article?
The Music of Strangers
Two decades ago, cellist Yo Yo Ma embarked on a new musical journey, forming his Silk Road Ensemble. It's a multicultural artistic collaboration between musicians from all over the world. They have made recordings, earned a Grammy nomination, commissioned diverse new musical works, created collaborations with students and teachers, and so much more. Silkroad boldly states its mission:
SILKROAD CREATES MUSIC THAT ENGAGES DIFFERENCE, SPARKING RADICAL CULTURAL COLLABORATION AND PASSION-DRIVEN LEARNING TO BUILD A MORE HOPEFUL WORLD.For those of us who experience music as a powerful emotional force, Silkroad's mission resonates as much as the ensemble's performances inspire and entertain. In case you missed it, there was a terrific documentary made about the Silk Road project: THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS. It's a behind-the-scenes look at some of the individual musicians, framed in the context of their personal backgrounds and world events. The documentary reminds us that, despite some outward differences, we humans have much more in common with one another than we sometimes acknowledge, and there is big payoff in learning more about our commonality. THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS is joyful, touching, and a powerful example of the transcending power of collaboration. I highly recommend it!
The Path to Success
Some of the things I'm most grateful for are things I did not plan for and could not have imagined for myself. For example, as a young musician, I hoped/dreamed/planned to be a full time flutist performing in a significant professional orchestra. Yet, along the way, I stumbled into radio and fell in love with the medium. It changed my perspective and my life for the better in ways too numerous to list. In hindsight, I even question whether I would have been truly happy as a full time orchestral musician, and I deeply appreciate the many "happy accidents" that steered me on such a satisfying path as a broadcaster AND professional musician. Most of us have had path diversions of some kind, and they are not always "happy" either, or at least they don't seem so at first. Years ago I interviewed the remarkable pianist Leon Fleisher. He was a child prodigy who grew into an astounding rising young concert pianist, when he lost the use of his right hand due to focal dystonia. As a result, he had to completely rethink his career and forge a new path. He focused on performing the left hand piano repertory and becoming a conductor and esteemed teacher and mentor. He has an extraordinary life and career, and I asked Mr. Fleisher if, in hindsight, he wished he could have done it differently. His telling answer was: no! He embraces the remarkable result of that initially painful change in his plans, hopes and dreams. I recently spoke with a young musician friend who is at a crossroads right now in his professional and personal life. He is a talented American singer who is enjoying success abroad, albeit not in the quality and quantity he hoped for, nor on the timetable he expected. Like many of us, he internalized the message that if one follows a certain script -- "Do A, B and C ... and you will achieve X, Y and Z." -- one will achieve the prize. Now he is staring at the reality that things don't always go according to plan, and don't necessarily bring the happiness and satisfaction one expected, and he is struggling with those assumptions he made and what to do next. My advice to him was to be open to opportunities, take some chances, keep doing his homework about his options, think broadly about his many skills and experiences, and eventually ... take a leap! I reassured him that many successful people arrive at their success through circuitous paths that were not what they planned or imagined. In fact, I'd guess that is true to some extent for most successful and satisfied people. What's your story? Did you have some "happy accidents" that set you on a different path than you'd planned for yourself? How did it work out for you? What pearls of wisdom would you share with a young friend at such a crossroads?
Is your glass half full?
What will you do to make yourself happy today? It's a question I sometimes ask people, an extension of a question I've made a habit to ask myself each day. Sunday Baroque listeners frequently say the music on the program makes them happy and provides mental and emotional nourishment. Recently a listener told me he likes Sunday Baroque, in part, because he can hear the smile in my voice. What a heartwarming compliment! The smile in my voice is my authentic self, because I love my work and I love connecting with listeners. I am also keenly aware and appreciative that I'm naturally hardwired to be a happy and optimistic person. Producing a music program for people who enjoy it gives me great joy and satisfaction, and I nurture my natural inclination to be positive with other activities and personal connections that support and enhance my happiness. Most of these are the "small picture" things ... get some exercise, chat with a friend, listen to music, play my flute, read a good book, play with the cat, try a new recipe, plan or complete a project, watch a silly movie or video that makes me laugh or provides food for thought. These are simple tasks and simple pleasures, and they are things that contribute incrementally to giving me happiness each day and over time. They provide order -- and disorder! -- that is pleasing and gratifying. They also give me a sense of satisfaction, as well as a sense of some control over my fate. When I look back over days, weeks and months, I see evidence that I can steer the course of some things that are most important to me and I need not settle for having regrets. There are plenty of studies demonstrating that optimism is good for one's health. Even people who are not necessarily hardwired for optimism can tweak some of their behaviors and change their internal narratives to see things through a more optimistic lens. What about you? Is your glass half full or half empty? What do YOU do to make yourself happy?