A defense of classical music

Saying you listen to classical music as a high school student generally elicits a reaction ranging from congratulatory to derogatory to just plain confusion from your peers. In this day and age when apps like “Snapchat” appeal to our short attention spans, spending time to savor an hour-long symphony or three hour-long opera could easily seem pointless when the immediate satisfaction of a pulse-quickening Beyoncé song is just a click away. Even if you can get past the length, the musical language simply does not speak to many listeners.

Some students at PHS, however, listen to classical music precisely because they are not interested in it. Music without words, or in the case of opera without English ones, that is “too boring” to be distracting, is the perfect soundtrack for studying. Indeed, studies have shown that listening to Beethoven or Brahms while working boosts memory, creativity, and productivity and results in higher test scores. It has even been proven to reduce stress levels and fight depression, two problems that PHS students know all too well.

graphic by <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Nicole/" title="View all of this person's work">"Nicole</a></span>

graphic by Nicole Ng

However, I think that this argument for classical music actually does more harm than good. What you listen to while you study is not supposed to draw you in and make you feel; rather, it’s supposed to make you concentrate harder on the task at hand. This completely undermines the real point of Mozart, which is all about emotion.

So, instead of turning on some classical music as “white noise”, make it your focus. If you take the time to really listen to and understand this music, the rewards are endless. Modern pop music relies on a throbbing beat or a flood of words spoken at lighting speed to convey its message. However, classical music accomplishes the same task with much more subtlety.

Great composers take a feeling, a place, or an idea and paint it with all its intricacies using beautiful music. With dozens of different instruments of the orchestra playing at once, he or she can combine many melodic and harmonic lines creating a mosaic of sound. The composer is limited neither by length or style; there is no need to conform to a three-minute song or a verse-chorus structure.

And this musical freedom consequently can manifest itself in deep explorations of the human experience. The complexity of classical music allows for authentic portrayals of the emotions that go beyond what words can express in a short pop song. Layers and layers of notes can draw the soundscape of a warm summer night, just like Morten Lauridsen does with his choral masterpiece Sure On This Shining Night. Take the example of Richard Wagner, who perfectly captures the complexity of unresolved lust in just the first seconds of his five hour opera Tristan und Isolde. Composers also use the freedom of length to fully explore every facet of a musical idea to transcend a merely black and white view of life.

Classical music has lost its wonder for most students, but you have probably experienced classical music doing its intended job when you watch a particularly dramatic movie or commercial. Directors know there’s nothing to get the heart racing like opening lines of Beethoven’s 5th or Orff’s O Fortuna at a dramatic moment. Those pieces evoke great emotion in the listener, and all classical music does the same. Now, if you take a minute to listen and really concentrate on a piece, you’re guaranteed more satisfaction than what the latest pop tune provides.

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name and email. Your email address will not be published.

Any comments containing the following material will be removed:
  • Hostility or insulting language directed towards other users, authors, Tower staff, or a specific group of people
  • Any type of harassment
  • Profanity, crude language, or slurs
  • Personal information about yourself or anyone else
  • Discussion unrelated to the article