The honest emotion behind classical music
Growing up, classical music was a large part of my life. It just wasn't a particularly pleasant one.
To me, it meant Saturday afternoon chores: there was always some Brahms or Schubert to accompany the long hours of scrubbing orange scum off the toilet or sweeping the kitchen. The only genre I hated worse was Cajun and Zydeco, which my dad always played when it came time for my monthly assigned room-cleaning.
Later, as I began developing my own tastes, classical music went by the wayside completely. Symphonies and sonatas make for fine dinner-table music, I decided, and I couldn't be more grateful for the extra brain cells the Mozart shot into my pink ears during my fetal days might have afforded me. But I'll stick to me rock n' roll for the casual listening, thanks.
After all, I always assumed, classical music is written by and for stuffy, self-described "intellectuals," people who can yarn for long hours about theory and time signatures, but couldn't check their oil if their life depended on it. These are the types who grow up in family estates wearing polo vests and always seem to be sniffing a nasty. I made it a point to stay away from these critters, and their music.
That all changed when I watched A Clockwork Orange last week, and noticed something startling. Here was a young ne'er-do-well, much more mischievous and with much longer hair than I, who listened to classical music when he wasn't robbing houses or seducing young ladies. He especially respected the work of a certain Ludwig Van, whose stern portrait he hung in his room.
That was all the validation I needed. Immediately, I went online and purchased the complete symphonies of Beethoven. I rummaged through the drawers for classical albums, stuffed my home stereo with a good mix and welcomed the new soundtrack to my life.
It was like I had stumbled upon a whole new world of brilliant musicians and beautiful music and possibility. God knows I needed to find one. Rock n' roll has always been there for me, even when people weren't, but I fear I may have reached a point of saturation with the genre.
In fact, I knew it was time to expand my horizons when I caught myself eyeing a Nazareth CD in a record shop last year. Desperate to try new things, I sampled a variety of genres. Rap has some interesting wordplay, but it's nothing I could listen to all the time. Jazz is nice -- beautiful, in fact -- but I never felt like I could make it mine. Strange as it may sound, I sensed that the moody, sultry trumpet sounds are addressed to people who have been through more difficult times than I, who have stared hardship in the face and spent more than one measly night alone in a car.
Classical music, though -- that's different. It speaks to me. It contains all the same reference points, the same pristine evocation of emotion that my beloved rock n' roll does. The only difference is that it demands a little more careful listening.
I have always enjoyed duets, for example, but not the soft, romantic kind where a man and a woman stand there and agree they love each other very, very much. No, I prefer the more combative variety, where the singers argue and fight as they trade verses.
It's all the poetic beauty of a heated exchange, without the screams and slammed doors. "Is it important to you?" goes a favorite rock song of mine, with one singer asking his wayward and drug-addicted band mate if he thinks their friendship can last. "Yes," the friend answers, him, sensing the doubt in his voice. "It's important to me."
The voices harmonize on the chilling chorus, which states with a hint of regret: "What became of forever? We'll never know!" It could be a conversation between me and any number of people I've known and lost through the years. Only we could never sing that well.
Classical music has this too. It's called a Concerto, which is sort of a musical conversation. The orchestra plays a tune, and an instrument -- commonly a piano or a violin -- answers with an echoing refrain. In this way, the two elements of the piece can seamlessly and beautifully intertwine and complement one another.
Or, as I prefer, they can clash and fight like a pair of rogue monkeys. Although the second version of the concerto may seem less pretty, I find it more honest.
It's more like life, with all the different parts bashing and disagreeing and seeming altogether inharmonious. In the end, though, all the discords and struggles add up to one big masterpiece. I like to think life's going to be like that, anyway.
Nathan Kitzmann is a senior at Detroit Lakes High School.