Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Changing the Channel
Most days when I walk listening to my Ipod, I choose the very funny NPR News Quiz show: "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" or upbeat quick music to inspire an equally quick pace. But sometimes, I like to surprise myself with something like Rapture.
Classical music is an acquired taste. I still remember my parents trying to foist it upon us - completely unsuccessfully. One week we got to the TV Guide before they did and saw a full-page ad for Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic the next Sunday. In desperation, we tore the page out of the magazine, hoping they wouldn't notice.
And if classical music is a hard sell, opera is just a big joke - everyone's favorite thing to imitate and make fun of.
I first got a glimpse of its power and depth in The Shawshank Redemption, a prison movie from which my favorite scene is when the hero, a literary, poetic man convicted for a crime he didn't commit, manages to broadcast a Mozart duet (The Marriage of Figaro/Duettina: Sull'Aria) to the prison yard. Men of all kinds - from hardened criminals to juvenile offenders - slowly stop what they are doing to listen as the music swells and grows from the loudspeakers. The looks on their faces change from surprise to confusion to astonishment and, as one of the oldest prisoners recounts, though no one had any idea what those two ladies were singing their hearts out about, no one wanted them to stop.
That song is on this album. I still don't know what they are singing, though I know I could google the title and get a translation. The thing is, I don't want to know. I just love the emotion that comes through in the voices, the rising and falling chords of music, the depth of understanding and longing and majesty the whole piece conveys. The words might just spoil it.
I play opera when I need to be inspired, when I want to be drawn out of my ordinary existence and reminded of the heights the human spirit is capable of, the great leaps of imagination, the plummets and cascades of disappointed love, the sadness and the grief, the joy and the wonder.
I played it in the background when my children were young (they called it Mom's AHHHH music) and I never forced them to listen. While at university, Anand had a part-time job selling subscriptions to the Handel and Haydn Society and was their all-time top performer (old ladies would call the next day to make sure that nice boy ANN-AND got the bonus he was entitled to for convincing them they couldn't pass up this chance to hear such sublime music). Cathleen sings soprano in her parish choir and loves the more intricate compositions.
Me, I just wander around my neighborhood late at night, listening to Mozart, Puccini and Handel, rejoicing.