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April 2017

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Lessons from music

In my last post, I talked about going to the orchestra, and how the pre-concert preparations have always been an important part of the experience.
Now I want to say a few things about the concert itself.

Going to hear a major symphony by a well-known composer (in this case, Beethoven's 7th, though this applies even more to the 5th and the 9th, which I also often catch live), I am aware of possible judgment from two sides. One is the side that thinks of Beethoven or any classical music as snooty, or boring, or elitist. The other side consists of classical music enthusiasts who are so deep into the field that they are interested in more unusual or experimental works. They say that Beethoven's best-known works are cliche, overdone; that the musicians are bored with them.

And while I understand that maybe everyone wouldn't look forward to hearing a symphony, and maybe some people have heard Beethoven too often and hunger for something different, I've also come to the point where I accept my own tastes without apology. I like classical music's "greatest hits." I know I am not the only one (which is why these works are so popular). I have seen people slapping their thighs, punching the air, bobbing their heads along with the music.

It's always as interesting to me to watch the performance of a Beethoven symphony as it is to hear it. Beethoven was unafraid of using all the musicians, including those whose instruments play deeper and darker, like the basses and the timpani. (I have sometimes thought, "The percussionists are getting quite a workout!") Some composers rely much more heavily on the violins and don't use the rest of the instruments as much. He also uses a striking sort of call-and-response pattern among the sections of the orchestra. Other composers have this echo-of-theme thing going on, of course, but I don't have enough of a music education to describe what seems distinctive to me about Beethoven's. I do remember that it was a revelation to me, the first time I saw the 5th performed, to see the arms of the violinists moving in unison, and then to see the different parts of the orchestra come alive at different times.

As a writer, I also appreciate the way Beethoven's movements often build to a crescendo in stages, the way a novel does. There's rising action--and then falling action--and then rising action moving even higher, and so on.

So those are my writerly thoughts for the day, courtesy of the symphony: Read/write what matters to me no matter what others think. Use my whole orchestra. Trust my voice. Alternate rising and falling action in the plot, on the way to the big finish.
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Ah! Particularly like your summary paragraph as you close this writing!
If any is useful to you as well, help yourself. :-)
Interesting. I've not heard of musical folk who believe that Beethoven is too tame. In fact, I usually hear from musicians who *love* Beethoven. I'm ambivalent. I love his 9th, but I prefer Rachmaninoff or Chopin or Prokoffiev...not experimental, however. ;)
Beethoven's voice strikes me as powerful, somewhat dark. I like Chopin, too, whom I also think of as rather dark, but not as forceful.

It's funny that when I hear an unfamiliar piece of music, I can often tell if Beethoven wrote it. Though I lack the words to explain why--beyond, "It sounds like Beethoven's voice."