Acquired taste

Nov

04

I was at the Brighton Dome last night, listening to the London Philharmonic Orchestra – conductor: Osmo Jänksä, violin solo: Christian Tetzlaff – performing works by Nielsen, Dvoƙák and Rachmaninov. Under the NOISE scheme, student tickets went for just £4, which, for a high-brow concert like this, is as good as free. Sussex students interested in similar offers should definitely sign up to the appropriate newsletter; the LPO will be back in town in February and March with three juicy-looking concerts.

Being a lover of more traditional classical music, I expected mixed feelings. In part, I went to the concert to confront myself with the rather dissonant nature of modern classical music. Surprisingly, not only did it work, but I actually really enjoyed the music. Even Nielsen's Pan and Syrinx (see below), which garnered rather reluctant applause from the audience, made me cringe with joy. After years of disrespectful dismissal of most of the classical music of the last century, I finally seem to have "got it".

Music, especially classical, has played a significant role throughout my entire life. While I wouldn't call my childhood home thoroughly musical (though certainly harmonic!), music was always present in some form, be it in bedtime songs, in the availability of various instruments, or my parents' vinyl and tape collection. During kindergarten, I received a basic musical education with chimes and, if I recall correctly, a simple recorder. Around the same time, my parents took me to a concert with a solo violinist, a young virtuoso, master of his instrument much like Tetzlaff. From that moment, I no longer had any doubts as to what instrument to play. Let my sister play piano, I would take up the fiddle!

As with anything back then, I learned very quickly, playing all the way through primary school. I played in children's and youth orchestras, where I must have acquired a taste for symphonic rather than soloist playing. Indeed, though my compliance with practice schedules waned to a minimum during my teens, I believe it was the lack of an orchestra that eventually led to a rapid decline in my instrumental activity – at 18 years of age, when I went to Finland for a year.

By that time, however, I had long taken up another musical hobby, namely singing. That began in highschool, when a music teacher converted my class into a pop choir over the course of a one-week outing. We had a lot of fun singing, and it was decided that the choir should remain beyond the end of the school year. It eventually became a pure girl's choir for lack of male voices – the problem of any mixed choir around the age where the boys' voices break – but the music teacher, an organist and director of several adult choirs, inspired me to keep singing close to my heart. In Finland, I joined the church choir as a tenor. Returning to Switzerland, I briefly sang in one of the teacher's choirs.

The only times I didn't sing regularly since were during my military service (although I did sing in an ad-hoc christmas project, turning up at some of the rehearsals in my uniform during evening leave) and roughly half a year after moving to Berlin. During the latter period, I realised how much making music meant to me, feeling very unhappy indeed in the first two months, when I had neither my violin nor my weekly choir rehearsals to keep my sense of harmony company. And aren't I glad that I heeded that internal call: it has brought me as far as Japan now!

Currently, my violin is, once again, far away, sitting it out at my parents' home in Switzerland – but at least I am regularly singing again. Granted, the student choir is arguably the least sophisticated among the choirs I have sung in so far, at least on a musical level. There is much to be said for a little bit of voice training and a dedicated pianist (or, at least, a conductor who doesn't rely on his piano alone to direct) during rehearsals. On the other hand, I've never been in a choir with singers of roughly the same age as myself after the very first. Plus, which other choir goes laser-tagging on their social nights?

For the time being, I'm quite happy with unambitious carol-singing – maybe I'll swell the tenor ranks of some other choir next year; from what I hear, it is in England as it is elsewhere: Tenors are always welcome.

With that, I shall leave you to enjoy your week,

Until next time,

Felix

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