By Paul Kane
This coming Sunday, April 17 at 4 PM, the Penn State Concert Choir will perform their Annual Spring Concert in Esber Recital Hall, Music Building I. Student tickets are $2, and general admission is $4.99. Having just returned from their Canadian Tour and their performance at the PMEA State Conference the Concert Choir will perform a program featuring pieces by noteworthy and diverse composers such as Josef Rheinberger, Maurice Ravel, and Alberto Ginastera.
But if I’m being realistic, most people would pass over this event without batting an eyelash.
For many, the words “classical music” carry a particular connotation of stuffiness and antiquity. Over the past 30 to 40 years, educators and students alike have experienced classical music as - in the words of retired Metropolitan Opera Violinist Les Dreyer - “the aural equivalent of “eating your vegetables.” It's true. Classical music suffers from an abundance of old masterworks. So much so that performance resembles a museum, not a concert. It’s dismaying, but we’ve failed to consider the extremely important idea that music can be more than entertainment.
Allow me to defend myself for a moment, though. I don’t want this post to be misconstrued as a polemic against modern music. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that, like me, you are between the ages of 18 and 25. I’d venture to say that you and I listen to some very similar music. What’s more, I’ll be the first to say that Classical music can be extremely dense and esoteric. I openly profess that, as a non-music major, I will never appreciate or understand classical music to the depth and breadth that some do. But that shouldn’t stop me, or anyone else, from listening to and participating in the beautiful tradition.
Classical and contemporary music both have melody, harmony, and rhythm, of course. But in the hands of a master – someone who has spent their life studying the mind’s response to these three components – something more meaningful happens. Intricate and complex patterns and combinations of the three emerge, and provoke an intellectual, emotional, and physical engagement that other music cannot. Classical music may suffer from an antiquated reputation, but it has not been dead for the past two hundred years as we are implicitly taught. There is a great deal of modern repertoire - classical music that has been composed even during our own lifetimes - that lives in the shadow of Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and company, despite its own unique beauty.
The Penn State Concert Choir prides itself on providing a dynamic and relatable experience of classical music to those who are open to it. As a member of the choir, and a proponent of artistic diversity, I highly suggest that you take advantage of this opportunity, whatever your understanding of classical music may be. As a university student, there is no other point your life that you will be surrounded by so much opportunity to experience the arts. If you like it, that's wonderful. If you don't, at least you can say that you've given it a fair chance. But, as an enticement you can view the choir's performance of Johannes Brahms' "Liebeslieder Walzer" from last semester here. This lush collection of love poems arranged for double choir and piano illustrates the highest highs and lowest lows experienced by the love-stricken soul. The collection is in German, but the message is universal.