Music Mondays: The Classics

So having established my love of music and my inability to stick to any aural genre, I’ve decided to start out with the one that surprises most people. By now those in my immediate circle are used to me rocking out to older songs and preferring things that would usually be played in an arena or club. This was not always the case.

A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away)  I studied classical voice. It wasn’t just a passing fad either – it took up a good ten or so years of my teens and early twenties. There’s something to be said for music that makes you have to focus on a million little details when you’re working on a song and classical provides me with that challenge. I get this encompasses a lot so to clarify I did a lot of art songs, a lot of court songs (Handel and Purcell are still my faves), an insane amount of songs in French and Italian, because I was involved in five million choirs in this time too I did a lot of chamber music (I don’t know how many requiems and masses I’ve sung throughout my life – I’ve lost count). My personal preference is regional folk songs (the kind of things that Britten was re-discovering when he was big and I think Samuel Barber could qualify as that too). I love British and Celtic folk songs and there’s some great American additions as well. I love the challenge and how detailed these artists are and make no mistake – I loved singing them. I loved the effort I had to put forth, the sense of accomplishment it gave me, the intricacy…all of it. I’ve done some competitions in my time and that style of music provided me a chance to travel out of the country. So what happened?

As I got older I became more and more convinced that musical theatre was where it’s at and I plain got burnt out. I should have probably let myself experience other genres more at that age then trying to be some little hilarious elitist thing, but hindsight’s 20/20. At any rate, as much as I love singing it…I don’t always love listening to it. I either start getting unfairly critical or competitive if it’s a vocal work. If it’s instrumental I prefer to listen to it when I’m doing something else. I also kind of feel that while these sorts of songs are awesome to perform…at times so much emphasis is put on technique (and yes it should be – I’m not denying that) that it kind of loses it’s approachability.

Which is why I’m so incredibly thrilled when I find artists that merge older music with an accessible vibe. For American folk Pete Seeger did a lot to save songs that could have been lost and bring them to popular attention.  And while I may be lukewarm on The Police and I generally like Sting’s solo efforts – it’s his covers of the songs of John Dowland and collection of English winter carols that I’m in mad love with. For those who think I’m making it up check out From the Labyrinth and If on a Winter’s Night.

Robert Plant’s also ventured into American folk territory on occasion – among the covers on his album Band of Joy there’s a little ditty called Cindy. The first time I listened to it I nearly fell over; it was one of the very first songs I’d learned when I started lessons in earnest – yes that’s fairly typical in the type of voice I was singing…gender really doesn’t matter in the classical/folk genre. Though I like his version a lot better (mainly because the variation I sang made the protagonist guy into a much bigger jerk whereas his is more playful).

But the most jaw-dropping discovery for me lately happened when I clicked onto an interview on PBS with David Garrett. For those who haven’t heard him – do it. Do it now. He’s a German violinist who is mind-blowing. His showmanship is fabulous, his ability is superb…but what I love about him is he doesn’t just play classical violin. He also re-works rock songs and turns them into orchestral works. I have two of his albums – David Garrett and Rock Symphonies – and I’d be lost without them. It’s not just that he’s fusing two musical genres – it’s that he plays them both well and brings out their strong points. He tends to treat the melodic lines of songs as a singer would – he uses the same phrasing but with an instrument. Pretty much his albums have a gorgeously full sound but they’re also not as overly polished as a lot of classical works tend to be. (Nothing against any artists or symphonies – I just think sometimes perfection in a song doesn’t mean it has to be absolutely perfect.) He’s performed Walk This Way with an Irish flair,  Smells Like Teen Spirit is brilliant on the violin, and there are so many others.
Plus, I will admit that he does a mean Vivaldi and his Beethoven is superb. He’s breathed a new life and passion into the music which I really appreciate – plus I can’t help but think that he’s opening up the genre to a younger, newer audience. If he’d been around when I was younger I probably wouldn’t have given up the lessons. That merging of classical technique and modern passion is fabulous and I would’ve loved to have strived for something like that when I was still neck-deep into that sort of thing.

I get it’s not everybody’s thing but there’s a lot to be said for keeping this genre alive. It doesn’t matter if it’s Mozart or Barber or traditional songs by that ol’ favorite anonymous.  These little snippets of moments give insight to the emotions and situations of the time; they’re almost like mini-monologues or emotional soundscapes. There’s definitely something to be said for appreciating the effort it took to write and the effort it takes to perform Handel or Chopin or one of the other greats. As much as I’ll brag about having seen various popular artists in concert, I’ve also seen my share of orchestras,  symphonies,  soloists, choirs, operas, harpists,  violinists,  xylonphonists,  and God knows what else. And I’m able to find beauty in all of those and admire the skill and emotion in every interpretation.

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