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The Spartan Review

The Student News Site of Athens Academy

The Spartan Review

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What’s All This Hype About Classical Music?

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Joshua Xie
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What do you think of when you think of “classical music”? Maybe: “Pretentious.” “Boring.” “Great when I want to fall asleep.” Perhaps an image of 17th century people in powdered wigs and stuffy clothes dancing an elegant waltz in an antique ballroom. Even the word “classical” sounds antiquated, its very description relegating it to a relic of the past.

 

Classical music has been around for centuries, but it seems very few people around me seem to enjoy it nowadays, especially at our age. Shostakovich, Wagner, and Elgar have been replaced by Swift, Wallen, and Eilish. After all these years, why now?

 

I think the main reason for this change is a shift in our view of music. Our demand has slowly changed “art” into “media.” The difference between these two is huge. You get enjoyment from “art” through careful interpretation and thought, while “media” is marketed to and consumed by you, often quickly and mindlessly. “Show don’t tell” has gone out the window as modern media tells us whatever it can as quickly as possible. Short, memorable titles and basic, catchy chord progressions are what you’ll hear on TikTok a week from a song’s release. Compared with the long developments and complexity of concertos and symphonies, which may require listeners to commit to a piece of music for up to an hour to hear its conclusion, short and predictable modern hits are just much easier to listen to in our everyday lives. I’m not saying that pop music is inferior to classical for its simplicity. (Kendrick will not be replaced by Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto on the aux.) My point is that because of this, people are unwilling or unable to find or create the appropriate time to enjoy the vastly different type of music that is classical, which, honestly, is just sad.

 

For the best example of this point, just look at lyrics, an often-raised complaint towards classical music. Lyrics are the most important part of a song to many people, since they are often the artist’s primary way to convey the song’s message. Lyrics, from clever bars rapped at lightning pace by JID to melodramatic lyrics sung beautifully (or bitterly, or both) by Olivia Rodrigo, give you an immediate, clear meaning. (Maybe not so clear if you’re listening to Carti.) If you’ve never listened to a classical piece before, you’ll find it hard to listen to, as multiple listens are often needed to even begin to see their message. This contributes heavily to a perception that classical music is boring and puts you to sleep, because it’s often hard to stay engaged with classical music’s abstract meaning.

 

This complaint, however, is where the beauty of classical music lies. What it allows you to do that perhaps no other genre of music can do is think for yourself. Listening to a piece of classical music is like reading a book or looking at a painting. It’s art to be contemplated, listened to over and over again, and enjoyed with your full attention, and ultimately tells you nothing. It is left up to you to extract your own meaning through careful listening. Some hear a satirical, hollow mockery of war in Shostakovich’s Symphony #5, but others hear genuine triumph. 

 

The greatest classical music connects with us deeply. It reaches into our raw emotions and makes us consider deeper meanings. It’s not held back by lack of meaning, but rather goes beyond what simple words can capture. In listening to classical music you’ll find yourself connected to a time of the past, to the composer who wrote it and the musician who brought it to life, feeling the emotions they felt and catching a glimpse into the lives they lived. You’ll personally find something new every time you listen. Maybe you’ll be feeling some emotion you hadn’t felt the last time you listened or notice some new melody in the large orchestra, changing your entire interpretation of the piece.

 

“I just don’t get classical music.” The good news is there’s really nothing to get, because classical music is different for everyone. A feeling you have but can’t understand, a question you never knew you had, or an experience you’ve never felt but yet can feel so attached to. In a world where we are being told everything, I encourage you to just go listen for yourself. At least once, just sit down and listen. You might not like it at first. That’s okay. Don’t give up on the first try. Think, but more importantly, feel what it means to you. Let it capture whatever you’re feeling or take you to something you’ve never felt before. Happy listening!

 

Some pieces to get you started:

  1. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade – Based on the story of the Arabian Nights, this symphony really is like a book or movie. Simple motifs weave a flowing story that you can see into as deeply as you’d like.
  2. Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (Overture) – Oftentimes classical is seen as dry or dour. This piece is just fun. Exciting and upbeat, with a triumphant finish in just over 7 minutes.
  3. Bach’s Chaconne – If nothing else, listen to this, easily my favorite piece of all time. (If you can, find a recording played by Jascha Heifetz or Hilary Hahn. If you listen to both, you’ll see for yourself just how different interpretations of the same piece can be.) Supposedly, Bach wrote this piece after finding his wife had died. It’s definitely long (13 or so minutes) but will absolutely leave you in awe of the raw emotion that can be expressed by a piece of music.
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About the Contributor
Joshua Xie, Guest Writer
Joshua Xie is a current junior at Athens Academy and is excited to write on important issues for the Spartan Review. In the school community, he is involved in the Honor Council, school orchestra, and Model UN. Besides writing articles, he loves playing the violin, fencing, and computer programming.

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