Sunday, January 16, 2011

Musings on Music

A wonderful bloggy friend of mine, Jill, has started a new series on her blog that has gotten me very excited. I would post a link but I believe that her blog is private, so I think you are out of luck. I enjoy stopping in and following her adventures as a Christian, a mother, a homeschooler and a musician. She plays the violin and music education is a focus with her family.

She posted that she is going to focus on a classical composer each month and that she would expose her children to works by that composer. I think it's a fantastic idea! In teaching, I have found that little kids are much more open to different genres of music and don't have all the negative associations that older people do (e.g., they don't find classical music as "stuffy" or "elitist") and it's a great time to begin shaping their tastes. I think that some of my favourite moments in teaching have involved having my students play imaginary timpani along with Sibelius' Finlandia, playing imaginary instruments from the string family along with Vivaldi's Four Seasons or pretending to play a trumpet with Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Why wouldn't I begin that with my own child?

As a graduate of music in university, it may seem odd but we don't listen to a lot of music in our house. I seriously believe that I suffer from A.D.H.D. and I have found that since I hit my 30's, I have a really hard time tuning out extraneous stuff going on around me. A t.v. in the background makes me think I will lose my mind and at workshops, when we need to read and comment on a text, I am almost incapable of retaining what I have read unless there is silence. It's very frustrating. Because of it, though, I don't often have music on unless it's a CD from one of Pk's music classes and it's "homework". I tend to avoid art music in the background especially (I don't know whether it's a universal term but when I was at university, what is commonly referred to as "classical" music was called "art music" since "classical music" really refers to music from the classical period, composers such as Haydn and Mozart). We used to have these exams that were joking called "drop the needle" - we were responsible to learn a selection of music and at the exam, the prof would randomly play excerpts and we had to name the composer, the period, the movement and the title of the piece. When I am anywhere that art music is playing (like a restaurant or a bookstore), I find myself trying to identify what I am hearing and if it doesn't come to me right away, I brood on it.

I like the idea of being deliberate about exposing my children to a different composer a month. I don't think I will do much teaching yet - they are so young, I think that right now, it's just the exposure that's important and we can learn more down the road, as interests develop and music lessons become more structured. For now, I just want to build appreciation of different styles and to develop their ears to hear different instruments and musical elements.

This month, Jill is presenting Mozart and that seems as good a place to start as any. I have to be honest (and Jill and I have been having a fun conversation about this), as a former trombone player, Mozart isn't my favourite. He didn't include a whole lot of low brass in his compositions, although in his Requiem Mass, there is a trombone solo, in the Tuba Mirum, that took years off my life in terms of being scary to play. I tend to like darker, moodier and more richly orchestrated music but I can recognize his absolute genius and appreciate the balance of lightness and sophistication in his creations. Of course, there's also his absolute genius, the HUGE extent of his repertoire and his ability to create a long-standing work of art in one sitting.

We are going to listen primarily to two of his symphonies that I enjoy - Symphony No. 40 and Symphony No. 41 "Jupiter". Not surprisingly, 40 is in G minor so I get my need for darkness filled. Dh claims that he remembers it being used in a Smurfs episode, which is definitely possible. I love the Requiem Mass but I may save that one for down the road. I would guess that Pk might find parts of it a bit scary (e.g., the Dies Irae, one of my favourite movements). Someone gave Baby Bean a Mozart CD for babies that I don't mind either - it's some of his gentler stuff performed by piano, flute, trumpet, violin and cello.

If you listen to Mozart, what are your favourites?


  1. Love this - I can continue our conversation over here : )

    I love the Mozart violin concertos (no big surprise). I love that they are "easy" enough for my advanced students to learn, yet "mature" enough for me to continue working on and perfecting! When I audition for groups, I find myself re-learning these wonderful works.

    My favorite symphonies are no. 25 in G minor (the lesser known g minor symphony) and no. 38. I played no. 25 in high school (it's an easier symphony) and love the drive the syncopation gives the first movement. Symphony No. 38 takes me right back to undergrad. We would blare it throughout the music building in the evenings.

    I also played in a really fun piece in college - it was a musical joke and it was so fun. Mozart actually wrote things into the horn parts like "take your horn apart and clean out the spirt" (or something along those lines). I also remember there were very bad sounding, yet intentional, harmonies.

  2. Jill, do you have a favourite violin concerto? I am always open to having my horizons expanded! I will also look for 25 and 38... 25 will mean something to me now, knowing that you played it. I always find it interesting that I can hate a piece of music on first listen but if I have to listen again or if it somehow develops a significance (e.g., a connection to someone I like), it can change my perception completely.

    My silly undergrad memories have more to do with Ravel and Schonberg... something tells me that Schonberg's Pierot Lunaire won't be on the listening list LOL. We did the Ravel opera "L'Enfant et les Sortileges" in which the toys come alive - it was such fun!

    I am really looking forward to hearing where else you go in your series and I plan to ghost along!

  3. My favorite concerto to play is No. 3 in G Major. I actually got to play this with an orchestra (as a soloist) my senior year of high school. It's so beautifully written for the violin - sensibly written. So many of the concertos are so hard that only the best ever get to play them well. I also like No. 4 in D Major, No. 5 in A Major and No. 2 (not sure of the key).

    Symphony No. 38 is subtitled "Prague" - Mozart lived there for a bit and when I was in grad school my orchestra traveled there. It was cool to see Mozart's apartment there and the opera house where he performed.

    Symphony No. 25 in g minor makes a prominent appearance in the beginning (I think) of the movie "Amadeus".

    I'm glad you are interested in this, makes it much more fun for me!

  4. Thanks for the suggestions, I will look for those pieces. That's fantastic that you got to see Prague. I have always wanted to visit central Europe and hit some of those places.
    This has been a fun discussion!