Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Road to Loving Classics However You Get There, It's a Chosen Path

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Road to Loving Classics However You Get There, It's a Chosen Path

Article excerpt

THEY were using the loud, self-conscious voices that young people often use in public - to be overheard, and to show that their conversation is more interesting and informed than older folks' desultory small talk.

"The Stravinsky was great, but why all this Bach and Mozart?" said one of the two young men as they left a Powell Hall chamber orchestra concert. Probably both were still in college.

"They should play more Percy Grainger and Darius Milhaud," countered the other, pronouncing Milhaud as "Mill-howd." The 20th-century French composer's name should be said "Mee-yoe."

They were so smug in their dismissal of the entire 18th century, and in their Bourgie-Types-Don't-Know-Anything condescension, that I thought of correcting their pronunciation. But only for the instant.

Why try to embarrass two kids who buck their generation's trend away from classical music? And if they've heard of Grainger and Milhaud - and like their music - they do indeed know more than many older listeners.

Most people today learn about classical music haphazardly. Standard historical survey courses are a rare luxury even in good private schools. Learning music from chant to minimalism is not the norm.

And perhaps that's a good thing. The way in which we learn something is often as important as the thing that we've learned. When it comes to a field as broad as the history of music or art, our knowledge will always be idiosyncratic - and perhaps a bit more personal and private than the kind of knowledge we by necessity must gain systematically. Only in the arts is it permissible and safe to be both an appalling ignoramus and an arcane specialist at the same time; try this at work and see how far it gets you.

I remember my own discovery of opera, which began in the outer orbit and only gradually moved toward the center of the canon. I knew most of the operas of Janacek, a 20th-century Czech giant, before I knew Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and "The Marriage of Figaro. …

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