The lightheaded happiness of being a blog-owner has somewhat subsided now (though I’m still more excited about this than I was about any non-musical project for a very long time), and slowly the cold reality started to set in. I took some solid advice from the WordPress tutorials (“get focused”) as well as from my social-media-savvy friends (“get focused”) and decided to get focused.
So, what is it going to be about? In short, detailed listening guides to various pieces of classical music.
Now the long version. It so happens to pass that almost none of my good friends are musicians; I’m a computer geek/Fantasy-SF&F/Dungeons-and-Dragons type of person in my free time, and most of my friends share those interests, rather than my occupational ones. It also happens to pass that at one point or another I desperately wanted my friends to convert to classical music (see the way I see this? :] ). I would make them sit down and would play to them recordings of my favourite pieces, whatever those happened to be at that particular time. I would look eagerly at their faces, or else nervously at the carpet, and would hope to catch some glimpse of the same excitement I felt when I listened to Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” or Bach’s Magnificat or Rachmaninov’s first Piano Concerto. (In their faces, of course, not in the carpet.)
I had one real success case (I realize now it was beginner’s luck) – and the piece that accomplished it was Prokofiev’s second Concerto (Toradze/Gergiev), the first movement. Roy, newly converted (to Prokofiev mostly), had this sort of look on his face as he tried to describe to me the dead, withered tree on a hill beneath the dead, grey sky he saw in the opening theme, and I kept thinking, “yeap, yeap! this is what this is all about”, and was utterly happy.
No other successes followed, though. My friends bore me stoically, mostly with good humour (though once I nearly lost my good humour, when a friend started to sing “kill the rabbit, kill the rabbit” along with the third act of The Valkyrie), but the music just didn’t get to them in the way I hoped it would, and finally I grew resigned to that sad fact (<— nonsense. I kept and kept trying, only it kept and kept not working.)
And then one day it slowly hit me (how’s that for a turn of a phrase?) – that despite my instinctive conviction that classical music was immediately approachable and couldn’t possibly fail to affect anyone who listened to it, there must have been some obstacle, some barrier, that didn’t let just anyone through. (I knew by that time that some, perhaps many, weren’t obstructed by it. I had the incredible opportunity of playing a recital for university students in Lima, Peru, for all of whom it was the first time of being in a classical music concert, and probably one of the first times of ever listening to classical music. We had a conversation in the end, and their reaction (really warm) still counts as one of my best experiences – beside making me feel it was a good recital, it proved to me that classical music could affect listeners without any previous knowledge, after all.)
And so, after another failed proselytizing attempt (Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, which were found completely indigestible), I decided to take a different route. That night I stayed awake for a long time, writing a listening guide to the opening movement of Bach’s Cantata No. 39 (“Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot”). Not just a listening guide of the general sort, but an awfully detailed one, with exact timings of things as they happened – different sections, chorus entrances, changes in instrumentation and tempo; I tried to show every instance of word-painting I could find (many! and some really cool ones which I only discovered while writing), explained briefly what a fugato was and then showed the entrances of every voice, including that extra entrance in the flute just before the end, and the… – shortly, I was on a roll. I don’t know why I chose that particular movement (except that I love it very much), but it turned out to be prime material – so full of things one could point out, that I later felt it was like a peeled mandarine, just waiting for someone to divide it into its segments.
And then I sent it. And it worked! Really, really worked. And not just with one friend, but with several; and it meant more to me than I could express. Of course, the task looming ahead was much more intensive than just throwing piece after piece at my faithful friends, but for the first time I felt I have possibly stumbled upon a solution. Classical music is beautiful and profound and incredibly powerful, but it’s also really complex at times, and a guide to explain and point out various things as they happen may mean the difference between liking it and feeling drowned by a flood of notes that refuse to make sense.
So now, seeing that I should get focused, I feel it’s a worthy thing to focus on, and this is what I would like to do in this blog – write a few guides like that, with the hope that they might reach some of you who haven’t had many encounters with classical music, but who are ready to invest half an hour in actively listening to what I deeply feel is enormous, exciting and wonderful music.
Well, that’s it for now. Check the blog in a week or so – the first guide will be online.