Classical music and me

The words “classical music” mean different things to different people. For some people classical music is music that is old and out of style. For others it is a specific term for a certain group of European composers, particularly Mozart and Haydn. For me classical music refers to all the music one might hear on a fine arts radio station. It includes Gregorian chant and medieval pieces, the Baroque masters ( J.S. Bach, Palestrina, Telemann, and Vivaldi), Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven and all the other early Romantic composers, the richness of the late nineteenth century composers, experimental music of the twentieth century, and even movie scores from the last hundred years. It’s all good.

I grew up around that kind of music. My parents listened to talk radio during the week (mostly for weather and traffic reports), but on weekends the family radio was tuned to the fine arts station. Their record collection featured classical music, music from Broadway musicals and from a few movies, some Big Band music from the forties, and some folk music from the fifties and sixties. I started piano lessons when I was in first grade and added the trombone when I was in fifth grade, playing in middle school and high school bands and orchestras as well as some honor bands and orchestras. In college I took a class called “appreciating classical music,” and it was the easiest A I earned in all four years.

I also listen to popular music—Elvis, the Beatles and other sixties groups, a lot of seventies and eighties oldies, and even some twenty-first century popular music. (I didn’t warm to Taylor Swift until her 1989 album, but that I like because it reminds me of music I enjoyed hearing at the end of the eighties.) I avoid rap as best as I can, and my tolerance for country-and-western is about two consecutive songs, but most music on the radio suits me. My favorite station plays a mix of oldies and contemporary popular music, and my car radio is generally set to that station.

On November 1, though, my favorite station suddenly switched to all Christmas music, all the time. By the third Christmas song I was through with that station for a while, and I switched to the fine arts station. For two-and-a-half months I’ve heard nothing in my car but classical music, and I am still not ready to switch back.

Take this evening, for instance. I was coming home from work, sitting in traffic with all those other cars, but I had the volume turned up high because the station was playing Debussy’s La Mer. Not many people get to rock to Debussy all the way home from work, but it brought me to the driveway in a good mood.

Five of my favorite works are Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring,” Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody Number Two,” Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” Joachin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” and Johann Strauss Jr.’s “Blue Danube Waltz.” But I’m happy to hear Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, or any of the greats. I even enjoy hearing opera.

I will probably switch back to my old favorite station sometime this winter or spring. Meanwhile, as long as I’m hearing the tunes I like on the way to work and back, don’t imagine that I’m nodding my head and drumming on the steering wheel listening to Taylor Swift. It’s just as likely to be Respighi or Wagner who got me cookin’. J.