Classical music — a blessing in childhood and beyond

“How can you listen to such exacting music?”

My big brother, 6 years my senior, once asked me this when he and I were still in school. As far back as I remember, our parents played classical music on radio and recordings. They didn’t ram it down our throats. They just happened to like it. So did I. For me, hearing it was a normal part of life — like walking and breathing — not strange or exacting.

Of course, receptivity to this music varies among kids, even in the same family, as my experience shows. Big Bro’ shows little or no interest in classical music — or, more precisely, Western fine art music — while his twin sister is an avid fan of it. Our younger sister is somewhere in between. You can plant the seeds, but not all soils are equally favorable. And, as we know, there are other influences on kids besides those in the home.

The violinist.com blogs and threads on childhood exposure to classical music keep reminding me how fortunate I was to hear this music from a very young age. It’s crucial — and shouldn’t be too hard — to keep sharing it with the next generations, preserving the fine side of it, but without the stuffy snobbery and elitism that turn kids — and adults — off to it.

I like other musical genres, too; but classical, more than other types, is what helped me get through the typical ups and downs of childhood, and it continues to be a therapeutic force in my life. I know firsthand how the strains of a Mozart symphony or Beethoven sonata or Donizetti aria can boost my confidence or help me shake off fatigue and malaise and bounce back to full energy.

Starting to Play

At age 7, I started piano lessons, but soon the violin muse grabbed me when a professional orchestra played at my elementary school. Now I witnessed firsthand how string players brought to life some of the scores — Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Borodin — that I’d heard at home.

We could undoubtedly fill many pages with creative ways, conventional and electronic, to share the music. Joshua Bell’s busking experiment at the Washington, DC, metro station comes to mind. Remembering my own childhood experiences, I’m not at all surprised that plenty of young kids wanted to stop and listen. If it hadn’t been rush hour, more parents might have been willing to let them.

My city doesn’t have such a station, but there are other offbeat venues for sharing the music. One of mine these days is my own garage. Playing the violin out there in the evening — the rough equivalent of singing in the shower — is something I look forward to each day. Where I live, it’s warm enough for this most of the year. Unlike buskers, I don’t get paid, but that’s not the object. Neighbors and passers-by keep saying that they like it, so the years of study and hard work continue to pay off.

One evening during summer 2012, something happened that I wish you could have seen. There was a knock on the garage door. It was a neighbor’s kid, about 6 years old. He’d been riding his bike around in the driveway and had stopped to listen. You guessed it — he wanted to try out my instrument.

It was like watching a replay of my preadolescent self. I knew what he was feeling — the same curiosity and delight I had felt as a kid — and still feel. Of course, the fiddle wasn’t the only instrument that fascinated him at the moment. My tenant-guest, who rented the north wing of my home that year, sometimes played his guitars in the garage, too, and gave the little visitor some demo sessions.

What, if anything, will develop from these different musical seeds planted by two different musicians? Time will tell.

Updated from original blog, published August 23, 2012, at violinist.com.

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