Expose Yourself

As the semester draws to a close (today is the last day of classes for us), I thought I’d repost an end-of-semester entry from my old blog site, originally posted in May 2005:

I had the great privilege of attending a fantastic concert at Clowes Hall here at Butler University. The program was Stravinski’s Symphony of Psalms and Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No.1, ‘A Sea Symphony’. Although illustrating different sorts of music composed in the 20th century, they both share my overlapping interests in religion/spirituality and music.

I also had the unhappy experience of witnessing a few female students, presumably from JCFA, deciding to simply go, get programs and then leave. Then they could meet the requirement that they prove their attendance at such an event, without having to actually attend.

I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to listen to Vaughan Williams, but a lot of this is a matter of taste. I should also cut the students some slack – it is exam time, after all. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that exposing oneself to different kinds of music is the same sort of horizon-expanding experience as learning about other cultures. In fact, in one sense, learning to appreciate music that is ‘not your cup of tea’ IS learning about other cultures.

When asked why they don’t go to more of these sorts of concerts, I suspect that many students would say ‘Because classical music sucks’. Yet this statement is patently untrue, just as it would be to say that ‘Popular music sucks’. Surely no one in the history of the human race could dismiss all music, old or new, ‘high’ or ‘low’. Sure, there are concerts and performers that “suck”, but they are rare enough and one can quickly learn to avoid them. But when heavy metal fans say ‘Rap sucks’ or R&B; fans say ‘Rock sucks’, this is not what is meant. Really all that is being said is “I don’t particularly like this kind of music”, just saying it in a less polite way.

No one expects students to suddenly fall in love with a new kind of music – although some do. But being able to appreciate why others enjoy something, even if you don’t enjoy it yourself, it part of becoming a better person. It can also make you a better spouse (surely your significant other will have some interest that you will not share). It can even make you money – after all, how often have important business connections grown out of a conversation about something else? Being able to listen to a different sort of music, to talk about it, is important. And if you’re talking to someone the least bit educated, being able to explain what you don’t like about a particular genre of music can still lead to a friendly conversation, whereas ‘The music you like sucks’ is unlikely to lead to a conversation that turns into a friendship, or a million dollar business deal, or anything else constructive.

And so, students, as this semester ends, my advice to you is to go out there and expose yourselves…to music, art, culture, of all sorts. You won’t like all of it, but I can say with reasonable certainty that even your exposure to and greater understanding of stuff you still don’t listen to for pleasure will benefit you in the long run.

So here’s one for you to try. It won’t take long. The Lark Ascending (actually, just part of it) by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Give it a try. Push play.

  • http://oliverstegen.net Oliver Stegen

    Thanks for sharing that – hadn’t been exposed to Williams before. Really liked it but then, among my favourite compositions are Sibelius’ Finlandia and Delius’ Appalachia.Also brought about reminders of David Smith’s recommendations of Shostakovich … you remember?Greetings from Nairobi (well, currently Edinburgh)!Oliver

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I hope you’ll try the Korngold I posted, too! It took me a while for Shostakovich to grow on me. I liked the 10th Symphony immediately, but the 4th was a bit too much for a newcomer to symphonic music to handle – although now I really like it.Greet Edinburgh on my behalf! I hope our paths may cross soon, on some continent or other! :)


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