Classical Music is Awesome #SorryNotSorry


Some of the best things in the world don’t give us satisfaction on the first try.
Or they involve some “work” in order to understand.
Or they require you to leave your comfort zone.

But eventually, they blow your mind.

Examples for me: Sour beer. Contemporary Art. Exploring cities where I’m not a native speaker.

Why then do I apologize if classical music requires this effort?

I can’t tell you how often I’ve had this conversation.

Me: I love classical music.

Non-Musician: [A thing s/he doesn’t like about classical music]

Me: Yeah, I guess you’re right…it’s not for everyone. I’m sorry about [thing].

I’ve made a decision recently. Classical music has stirred people’s souls for more than a millennium. It makes you feel things. It tells wonderful stories. It takes your mind to new places. #SorryNotSorry, but classical music is awesome. And I might not let you off the hook anymore if you tell me [thing] is a good reason to deny yourself from experiencing the art-form that I devote my life to.

Two women standing with their backs turned to a shore with small waves. The woman on the left is wearing pink headphones and a blue and white top. Her hands are together in front of her. The woman on the right wears sky blue headphones and holds them up with her left hand. She is wearing a top that has prints of pineapples. Sunglasses are clasped to it.

I hate how it takes an hour just to get through one song.

It’s true that many classical music performances will go for a while without even a hint of pause. But this isn’t a bad thing. You have the opportunity to either escape your world for a while, or you can get to know it a little better. Depending on the repertoire, of course. For example, Bruckner symphonies to escape, Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle to learn.

Also, how many of us are looking for a break from today’s abundance of instant gratification? Think of how often people seek out yoga, meditation, long road-trips… There is a particularly satisfying “pay off” in many works of classical music that only happen if you experience their entirety.

I tried listening to it when I was younger, but I was so bored. It’s not for me.

I hated olives as a kid, but now I can’t get enough of them. We evolve; if you haven’t tried it in a while, why not give it another go?

Also, since there is so much music to choose from, maybe you weren’t exposed to pieces that click with you. Was Handel’s Messiah too repetitive for you? Maybe you’d rather hear Brahms’s German Requiem, whose timbres and musical ideas have more variety, in my opinion.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can literally search for “Getting Started with Classical Music” and try out the different flavors.

Listening to classical music is like going to a museum.
(Yes, someone once complainingly told me this.)

First of all, museums are wonderful, so I don’t see how this is a problem.

But more importantly, most classical music performances invoke the legacies of the past. When you attend The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, the orchestra is giving you the very sounds that contributed to a 1913 Parisian audience erupting into an uproar at its premiere. This isn’t boring; this is awesome! I dare you to listen to this piece and not feel some sort of energy inside of you.

Performers and other creative forces behind the scenes also look for new ways to present pieces of classical music.

If we listen to 10 recordings of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, we can have 10 different interpretations given by 10 conductors and 10 orchestras. Each one with its own timbres, pacing of dynamics, pacing of tempos, and so forth.

When I was studying at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, I participated in the first of their Pulse concerts, in which the orchestra plays selections of classical music that seamlessly flow in and out of a DJ’s sets. As Miami Beach has an enormous nightclub scene, Pulse has successfully brought thousands of classical music newcomers through the New World Symphony’s doors for the first time.

Opera staging directors and ballet choreographers often reimagine movement and visuals as well. As an extreme example, a friend of mine once told me about a modern production of Wagner’s Lohengrin that she saw. Rather than the title role arriving in a boat pulled by swans, as the story originally calls for, Lohengrin made his first entrance on a fire engine.

I only go to classical music concerts to make my girlfriend happy.
(Yes, someone also really did tell me this, too.)

My question to anyone with this attitude is, have you actually given it a chance?

If the answer is “no”, I invite you come back. And when you do, check your preconceived notions or hang-ups about classical music at the door. Forget about whatever might be on your mind that day. Find out how long the performance is, and grant yourself permission to experience something new for that amount of time with undivided attention.

If the answer is “yes”, I would love to know what kind of music piques your interest. Something that you can tap your foot to? Something that helps you chill out? Something that gives you a cathartic experience? Classical music has anything you’re looking for! Do just a bit of research to figure out which pieces suit your tastes. Ask the Internet. Ask your friends. Ask the Box Office. Or as always, ask me directly.

Wouldn’t be great if you and your girlfriend can find performances you both enjoy?

Tickets are too darn expensive.

Incidentally, the first article I published here addressed this topic. I can’t really think of anything else to add to it, but I would like to reiterate two key points.

First, most classical music performances will have tickets at rather low prices. You might need to get them well in advance, but they’re there.

Second, we all have nights out that cost us at least as much as a typical classical music performance. Sports games, good restaurants, and bar-hopping easily exceed the amount you would spend for the music.

About Doug Rosenthal

No one told Douglas Rosenthal to give up playing music. Not even his patient siblings, who endured many early-morning practice sessions; even they encouraged their brother to follow his passion. As the years passed, that passion evolved from simply playing music to advocating for music, musicians, and music-lovers. Douglas is based in Washington, DC. He is the Assistant Principal Trombonist of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra/Washington National Opera Orchestra. He currently makes his home on Capitol Hill in DC with a pug named Jake, who serves as a constant reminder to relax, eat well, and sleep plentifully.

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