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31 January 2006

Rock Me Amadeus

Because we are cultural people, John and I decided to watch Amadeus this weekend to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. John apparently knew of this big 2-5-0 from listening to NPR; I only knew about it because google had all kinds of Mozart-y décor on its homepage that day so I had to investigate. I am forced by this to conclude that John is smarter than I am, and more well-informed. But at least I know how to search.

I have seen Amadeus probably 5 or 6 times, but each time I notice something new. No, not the subtleties of Milos’ direction, or the nuance of character- but a “whoa, I had no idea that person was in this movie” moment. (Like the principal from Ferris Beuller, who I can never quite take seriously as the emperor of Austria because I’m always imagining him losing his shoe in the mud outside of Ferris’s house- you know? In the last scene?) This time it was Cynthia Nixon, who had a lovely turn as a timid kind of nutcase maid working in the Mozart household.

I mostly love watching Amadeus for the music. It’s almost luxurious to spend 2 and a half hours listening to Mozart. You see, for a while, I took classical piano lessons. I suppose that it was more than a while- technically, I took classical piano lessons for a decade. I tend to downplay how long I played because I have literally no lasting proficiency from this ill-spent decade laboring over scales. No kidding: I sit down at a piano in front of, say, a piece of sheet music for a popular Christmas carol, and if I try to sight read it I sound like a 7 year-old. (Note to parents everywhere: if your kid shows talent, but it’s pretty clear that they don’t have enough talent to be a concert pianist, spare them the agony of classical music lessons and let them take lessons instead from a teacher who specializes in popular music, or jazz, or something involving solid instruction in sight reading and chord progressions. That way, they’ll be able to play for the rest of their lives. And not just random snippets of sonatas that are somehow still locked in the memory.) But despite my total lack of skill and the utter misery I felt every week when I had to go for another round of scolding over my droopy hand form from my scary teacher with orange hair, the time I spent in piano lessons inspired a real affinity for classical music, and symphonic music in particular.

So watching Amadeus, I was inspired to find and listen to some more classical music, to bring it into my daily listening rotation. But when I got on itunes, I hit a wall. Here’s the thing: there is WAY TOO MUCH classical music out there. Thousands of pieces, each with dozens of recordings by different ensembles. itunes guided me to a lot of lists like “100 classical music selections for beginners” and “essential classical.” I tried searching for something like “Mozart,” and was confronted with 732 choices. That’s when I started to panic. Because I’ve been sufficiently indoctrinated by the scoldings of indie music fans, I know that if something is too popular, I’m not supposed to like it. This is totally paralyzing. I don’t want to end up downloading the Matchbox 20 of the 1780s, do I? Is liking “Pachelbel’s Cannon” akin to buying a Nickelback cd? Is the Jupiter symphony popular because it’s actually good, or because it has a cool name?

Is there such a thing as classical music street cred? If there is, and if you have it, please tell me what to download. I’ll be a follower, but at least I’ll be following someone hip.


At 1/31/2006 11:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmmmm... sounds like someone needs an orchestra concert? Perhaps a little Shostakovich Symphony No. 11? Well you're in luck- that's what we're playing next!

oh and this is 'Mason' in case you didn't know. I've de-lurked! My first blog comment ever.

ps. I know you actually know a fair amount about classical music but i would recommend a Bartok string quartet if you're in the mood

At 2/02/2006 10:28:00 PM, Blogger Mango Pancakes said...

I have no recommendations whatsoever. Sorry.

But what I was going to say was: That's so weird! I also played classical piano for 10 years and now cannot play a damn thing, let alone sight read. I feel better now though, because it might not just be due to my own burnout. It's probably the music's fault!


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