Thursday, April 9, 2009

ahhhhh, Brahms....

Tonight I wrap up teaching the Romantic era to my large Mus Apprec class. Large meaning 115 students spanning all years of college levels, freshman to seniors. I've written about this class before, and plowing through 1500 years of Western music history is a strange teaching gig. There are many cool things about it, though. For instance:

--I am reminded how much this crazy shit fascinates me as I teach it. Without "having" to go through this material--especially the Medieval/Renaissance and Baroque eras--I wouldn't be working with it much because I prefer music from the mid-18th century through today. But, in essence, I love it all. I really do.
--I am reminded how much I really like teaching. I refer to the character of this class as "herding cats," meaning that I am constantly trying to focus these 115 wandering minds on the material. So, I'm sort of performing in a way....more theatrical, more dramatic, louder (it's a big room), sort of on the spot and constantly being kept on my toes. But, I like that. It energizes me.
--I don't get to talk much about the United States until the "modern" period (20th-century), but find that on my way home (45 min. drive), I think about the concurrent events that were occurring in our country in tandem with those of Europe. Interesting stuff (to me).
--I think that even though there are many students in this class who don't give a hearty hoot about this material and are taking it for the Core Credit requirement, I KNOW that there are those who do like this material. I can only hope that they have good vibes about this class. And, I get to teach it next semester, too.
--I am reminded how importantly I view music in the world. I think I actually understand the world THROUGH music. And, being reminded of that makes me want to burst into tears with gratitude to my parents and friends and teachers over the years who recognized that I "get it" and helped and supported me.
--There is so much music to cover that much DOESN'T get covered. But, the ones that we discuss, analyze and listen to more closely are some of my favorites. And tonight, BRAHMS. *Sigh*. He breaks my heart every time.

Right now, I am listening to the second movement, the Adagio, of his first piano concerto and I feel so peaceful or something. If you don't know this piece, you will have to take my word for it.....but it DOES SOMETHING to me. It settles me down. And much of Brahms music does this. I hope everyone has a person or artist or something in the way that I "have" Brahms. It's like, when I listen to his music--and this goes for almost ALL OF IT!--the world seems to crack open a bit and beauty, humility, and gentleness flow slowly out of that crack and directly into my body.

Brahms's style has been debated over and over in musicology. So has his personality. He was a Taurus, ya know, like myself. He lived and composed during the Romantic era, but did not indulge in the style of writing "program" music, meaning compositions whose music reflected or told a story or followed a plot. His is "absolute" music....a piano concerto is just that. A bunch of sounds that don't necessarily MEAN anything. But, holy shit....THEY DO! They mean a lot.

I can't keep going on and on about this cuz I do have other things to attend to today, but I find music that ISN'T supposed to "do" anything--like reflect a plot or story--and just "is" ends up being much more profound for me. Brahms gets meaning in his music somehow, and music philosophy/theory continues to debate just how our lil' brains process any of it and make sense of it at all. I certainly don't have those answers, but I can feel it when it happens. Right into my bones.

In this piano concerto, for example, within the first two minutes--as the orchestra begins the slow and luscious theme and then the piano enters--I can FEEL some kind of meaning. Brahms and I begin communicating. I don't always even know how to translate those feelings into words, but I am in a dialog with Brahms through this piano concerto. I am certain of that. I don't know the "meaning" behind this breathtaking piece of music and I don't know what he was thinking while he wrote it. And, I don't even know what he and I are actually communicating at all. (AND, now I'm even confusing myself by trying to communicate this to you!!! ha ha).

Oh, I don't know. I can spout all kinds of facts and musical razzle-dazzle, but here I sit, happy and warm, listening to Brahms, and I can't speak coherently about it.

Maybe that's the point. There are no words, really, that can describe what is going on in this comforting swirl of sounds that collapses historical time--Brahms's time over 130 years ago in Vienna and Judy time here in The Buff--when this music plays. But, it is my job this evening to introduce Brahms to my students. Maybe after a little biography on him, I'll just let the music play. And say nothing. Just let it be, so to say....

I'm stopping now. I'm going to start this piece over and just listen quietly. Maybe twice.....

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