Enjoying Classical Music...On Purpose
Buzz... Buzz... Me: "Mom, I went to the symphony today, for three hours."
Mom: "Who is this and what have you done with my daughter?"
My relationship with classical music was between "tone-deaf" and "don't mind it, maybe", according to Ben Zander's descriptions of people and their relationships with classical music at this Ted Conference, approximately 97% of the population feel the same way I did.
Not only didn't I get classical music, my parents had their own struggles. My mom often said that a natural remedy for her insomnia was either learning English, or listening to classical music.
Seth Godin, my favorite author and mentor for all things in life, talks about Ben Zander constantly. After listening to his live recording at Carnegie Hall, I was convinced that Zander must be of my learning experience somehow. I was lucky to catch one of Zander's last shows in Boston on Sunday, February 21st before he travels to other States to perform for at least few months.
Arriving at the Broadway Garage in Cambridge, the parking attendant waved me in with a smile only when I began to make the sound of "Z". (For non-Bostonians: Parking for free in Cambridge is pretty close to a miracle.)
Sanders Theater is only a few blocks from the garage, so I decided to follow a woman who appeared to be carrying some sort of an instrument. She smiled and kindly asked me to follow her. "I am super excited. It's my first time." I said proudly.
Hardly balancing all the the things she had in her hands, the woman opened the door and welcomed me into Sanders, a theater famous for its design and acoustics.
The woman turned out to be the solo violinist Jennifer Frautschi, who resides in Brookline, MA with her family. Zander later told us that she rarely performs in Massachusetts, it was a very special treat for all. She was stunning to say the least.
I was blown away by the interior design at Sanders Theater, a high Victorian Gothic building with all the bells and whistles you can imagine - red brick walls, Victorian glass art... Wait, that must be Ben Zander... I whispered to myself, watching a man dressed in full black outfit, distinctive silver hair and eyebrow features somewhere between Bernie Sanders and Einstein.
Zander stood next to one of his posters and that conveniently confirmed his identify for me. I had the urge to introduce myself and invite him to be a guest on my podcast. Instead, I watched as he walked up to a family with an open hand.
The little girl looked up anxiously. She recognized him and she knew she was here precisely because of him.
Zander: "Do you play an instrument?"
The young girl's eyes began to shine. She nodded immediately, with a sense of pride and starts chatting with Zander.
Zander:"Will you come say hi to me during intermission?"
"Yes, I will!" the girl replied with a smile, first in her eyes and then spreading to the corners of her mouth. She couldn't help clicking her little heels together under the perfectly arranged outfit.
She reminded me of another little girl I saw at a famous music venue.
A group of incredibly experienced classical musicians were playing music that sounded similar to what I heard on the TV Show Hannibal. As I was feeling confused and impatient, a young girl of about 4 or 5 years old, started dancing in front of hundreds of audience sitting on the grass (outside of the concert hall). She looked so happy and her eyes sparkled with joy. A few minutes later, an usher stopped her and said: "You can't dance here." She was upset for a moment and walked away with her head down.
Zander strolled around the hall for the next 15 minutes saying hi, shaking hands with everyone in sight. His presence radiated with love. People often waved and left him with "Thank you for all you do" as they enter the Memorial Hall.
Never doubt the capacity of the people you lead to accomplish whatever you dream for them. - Ben Zander
Before the 3pm concert, Zander gave his magical talk that is nothing short of this description:
"Pre-Concert Talks: If you have ever wanted to learn more about classical music, come to Benjamin Zander's captivating pre-concert talks. The talks are an intrinsic part of the Boston Philharmonic experience. Maestro Zander pours his passion and energy into bringing music alive for the novice and the experienced music lover alike."
The talk was an important one for me. Zander led the experience by playing short pieces of music then followed by jargon-free, often funny explanations. It's part comedy, part education, and never a dull moment.
He talked about the constructions of classical music, why some might sound more peculiar than others. He dove deep into personal stories of musicians we were going to experience including Schumann, Mendelssohn, Eldar. My favorites were: "Schumann will make all of you exceptionally emotional regardless of how cheerful you felt when you walked in the door today", or "The best moments for you to cough would be after Mendelssohn's Andante and before the Allegretto ma non troppo."
Unlike stories of conductors who throw cough drops at hacking audience, Zander played and laughed with all of us, making classical music fun, accessible and an integral part of people's lives.
Don't take yourself so g--damn seriously.
The music started. The entire audience applauded to Zander's appearance. The acoustic sounds vibrated every corner of the music hall. Schumann's Overture to Manfed, Op. 115 came on and Zander lost himself in the music.
Tears rushed to the corners of my eyes.
What is happening?! I am listening to classical music for god sake. A feeling of shock and embarrassment occupied my mind, completely unprepared.
Then I realized that Zander wasn't kidding when he said: "When you really listen, classical music awakens the deepest feelings and sensations. You will understand every word Schumann has to tell you."
It took a few minutes before I let my guard down. Then I noticed everyone around me.
In the presence of someone like Zander who sees the possibilities that exist in others and the world around us, people feel the connection to something greater than themselves.
The second stage of my experience was the feeling of vulnerability, a deepened connections with people I never knew - audience around me, musicians on stage, and Zander himself. What can I do to empower and protect them? What can I do to create this level of impact for other people outside of the Sanders Theater, to pay it forward?
With such profound thoughts still lingering on my mind, intermission kicked in. Zander stood by the exit waiting to greet everyone. He took my hand by surprise and pointed to my eyes:"I look for shining eyes because then I know I have done something right."
Me: "It was wonderful. Seth Godin talks about you a lot, and I am so thrilled to be here. "
Zander: "Oh, is Seth Godin a friend of yours?"
Me: "Not exactly. He is a mentor. I read all of his books and we exchanged several emails."
Zander smiled and said:"Please say hi for me."
The crowd push me away from Zander. A woman walked up and asked how I became friends with Zander.
The second half of the concert went by very fast and concluded with the longest standing ovation I had ever seen.
As people were leaving, Zander was again standing there, like an old friend, shaking hands and thanking everyone for their gifts of being there. His face covered with sweat, and glowing with joy.
I also encourage you to check out this short Ted video is similar to the pre-lecture he gives before each concert: