In all strata of society, classical music is seen as an intellectual and elitist pursuit; the costly preserve of the highly educated and hyper-sensitive. This is WRONG – completely and tragically wrong! An unfamiliarity with ‘high culture’ is simply that – a lack of information, knowledge, and understanding which is easily remedied. It is most definitely not a sign of inferiority of mind or spirit, sensitivity or intelligence. Such a way of thinking is a trap for the lazy or thoughtless and the consequences of falling into it can be disastrous – hurtful, unfair, and deeply embarrassing.
Music is about emotion, not thought; about feelings, not ideas. It begins where words fail and allows us to express those things which words cannot say. Pure music speaks in the language of pure emotion and must be heard in that same tongue, at first and for ever. By all means think, but first we must feel or all such thinking is idle. This is why the first-timer’s response to music is at least as important and valid as that of the most sophisticated connoisseur – arguably more so – and why performers such as myself must be ever conscious of the range of experience of our audiences.
It is wonderful, of course, to use intellect to investigate more deeply. Then our feelings are as data to a scientist and must be treated equally honestly – as the scientist must see with the eyes of a child, we must feel with the heart of a child. If we make sure we discover the ‘what’ of our feelings before we attempt to ask the ‘why’, then great riches can await as understanding deepens; but we must always retain our honest and innocent reactions, no matter how much we complicate ourselves.
When we think of a tribal activity – football, motorbikes, clothes, music – it is the tribe that is important and definitive, not the activity. Belonging requires us to give out public signals – “we are US – good thing – and you are THEM – bad thing (or at least not as good as US!)” For reasons which must be inspected elsewhere, Classical Music has created an image of itself which, almost universally, places it firmly into the list of things of interest to THEM, notwithstanding the fact that many, or even most, of those who would claim not to like classical music have never really heard any, or at least not under circumstances in which they appreciate what they are hearing. The answers such people give to the question “so why don’t you like classical music, then?” are sometimes amusingly inventive, more often depressing and unimaginative, but almost always woundingly ill-informed and unrelated to anything like reality.
How frustrating it is – how deeply and agonisingly frustrating – to know that to experience and appreciate this music is in fact simple, fascinating, exciting, moving, and, most importantly, EASY. Imagine malnourished people standing outside an infinitely well-stocked kitchen but refusing to enter and eat because they don’t feel it’s cool or hip, no matter how beautiful and enticing the food looks or how much good it will do them. What can be said to such people? We who stand in the kitchen offering each other ever more tasty and elegant morsels and ignoring the crowd outside should be doing everything we can to welcome, entice, cajole, and otherwise persuade them in to join us at the party and simply eat out!
Music will never solve the world’s ills. It won’t feed the starving or cure terrible diseases. It does act on the mind and the soul, however, as exercise does on the body, and so promotes a spiritual fitness to match the physical fitness the pursuit of which is such big business these days. Listening to a great piece of music is like having a workout in the emotional gym and that is perhaps a clue to its proper place in our lives. It’s no big deal to listen to – but the biggest deal imaginable to hear.
© 2012 Philip Hesketh