September 22, 2002

classical gas

I’m trying to write an English paper but it isn’t happening. To grease my wheels of discussion I’m gonna ramble on a bit about classical music.

I’ve have a soft spot for classical music, but it has always felt so distant from me. When I listen to Beethoven or Mozart or whatever it has never seemed to reflect my existence. To me the orchestra has always suggested a world of holy battles, tyrannical rulers and violent uprisings. The bloody rush of good against evil. It is an art that reflects a world so far beyond my own that it borders on the incomprehensible. Classical music has always made me feel small, not in a “Lake Superior could whoop my ass” good kind of small, but a frivolous “Why the hell does my puny existence even matter?” small.

I revel in any wicked proclamation from the string section, but I am simultaneously attracted and repulsed by the music. It speaks too much. It shoots over my head to lodge in the skulls of Great and Noble Men, among whom I can only hope to be one day. Today I fought no wars, I defended no homeland, I vanquished no dread beasts. Today I ate breakfast at Betty’s Pies and pretended that the pie listing was a stock ticker. Today I sat in my room and avoided analyzing Sherwood Anderson’s Death in the Woods.

Today my troubles are not worthy of the first two chords of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5.

But then I came to a startling realization. These songs, no matter how splendid, were never handed down from the mountains. There is nothing divine within them. They reflect mankind, and that is all. What’s more, they are simply the beautiful coherent ramblings of a couple mad men that were crazy and motivated enough to chain themselves to pianos and hack out this stuff.

Every note was written by a puny human. Classical music isn’t for the Great and Noble, but for every tiny being that takes the time to listen. It is not to be interpreted as something far beyond ourselves but something within. When I listen now I no longer strain to hear the clash of the heavens, but instead bend an ear to the thunder in my soul. My passions, relationships, toubles and toils span the skies and become heroic. I run my fingers across the dizzying crescendos and mire my feet in the dark depths. My feelings are externalized, filling the room and resonating in the walls. The music makes the human experience real.

What’s more, the music itself give us something great to which we can aspire. There is no need to lead a puny and insignificant life, as we all have the capacity to be heroes. Tune your mind to welcome challenge and hardship. Work at what you love until it hurts. Find the string section in your life.

Leave a legacy.

The fact that Beethoven and Mozart were from European countries may have something to do with their ability to compose. Are we a product of our surrouding? I have never spent time in Germany or Austria but had the chance to be in Italy for a long period of time. After marvelling at the grandeur of the monuments that were erected before the time of “modern technology” made me believe that anything was possible. Why can’t we do something that has already been done before? Perhaps the mentality of the human specie has declined and just become “a hell of a lot stupider.” I felt so powerful looking at the monuments, a feeling I have not really had in the United States. What exists in the U.S. that we are unable to re-create? On the other hand I felt like I was a speck of nothing walking on the earth after sitting at the sites of Roman Empire. At times I started to feel uneasy because I was not familiar with my current environment, I just could not relate. Perhaps these great composers were just regular beings able to communicate how they felt about their surroudings in an almost non-existential way. Perhaps I am really tired and need to go to bed……

I don’t think we’ve managed to decline as a species. Beethoven and Mozart were geniuses, but consider that we have nearly 300 years of history to point at and say, “Here are the geniuses, here, here and here.” Newton, Descartes, Einstein, all the other dead white guys that we learned about in high school… history is rich in genius.
“But then, where are the geniuses today?” people often ask, and in the same breath accuse prozac and ritalin and daytime tv of killing them off. A genius is a very, very rare thing, and it’s selfish of us to expect one to just come along every couple years and do up some crazy shit.
Often times, as was the case with many classical composers, geniuses are not recognised until after their demise. Civilization then kicks itself for not seeing it earlier, and cries when it can’t find any new geniuses to fill the void.
As for musical composers of recent, a lot of them have grown bored with the tired IV-V7-I progressions of the classics and have moved on to writing songs for smashed pianos and chairs dragged across the floor. They’re still writing in droves, but it isn’t the kind of stuff regular people listen to with any great passion… at least not yet.

But Dane, you said that the music seemed distant from you, almost incomprehensible. Why?
How do we know that human has not declined when there stands a monument in the middle of Rome; the Pantheon which man cannot replicate today?

I can understand the need to know where we’ve been and where we are going, but how does that relate to current context? MANY of the problems faced today were unheard of in the times of mammoth structures and philosophizing on the dime of the public. Today we have grants, we have privization, and we have demand for results. Sure, we’re removing the “creative” element from society, but if you want it, you can finance your own spiritual and mental awakening. I’m sorry, that’s harsh, but …

I believe the music seemed distant because I was making it distant. Rather than distilling it down into my existence I was trying to superimpose it on something far greater. I don’t think that mankind is any less now than he was in the past; the fact that we can recognize great accomplishments, whether they be music or architecture or whatever, is proof enough.
Yes, I’ll admit that the Pantheon is an incredible piece of work, but I think humans are still producing greatness. We’ve been to the moon, we’ve sent probes out of our solar system, we’re cracking the code of quantum mechanics…
Keep in mind I’m saying all this having not seen the Pantheon in person, but I believe the greatness and ability that motivated the Greeks to build that structure are still pushing us around today.

Personally, I don’t think man has declined either and frankly I don’t care. I was trying to get a reaction as to why the music seems so distant. I don’t see a direct correlation between your spiel about “grants and privitazation” as it relates to music composed years ago, and I don’t plan to finance any “spiritual awakening.” Haha, Daniel, RELAX!