Breaking the Classical Music Stereotype (by Zoe Whittaker)
Classical music…man, it can be tricky. Many see this Western approach to music as austere, high-demanding, and strict beyond means. High in skill and technical demand, the classical repertoire does require a sense of strictness, a strong foundation of rhythm and notation and just pure intricacy. Like all musical genres, classical music comes with its own unique set of challenges. For strings, the understanding of intonation and pitch is vital due to our fretless fingerboard; your ear has to be wildly open and listening. Holding the bow also requires specific mobility of the fingers that is needed to accommodate bow direction, speed, and various bowing styles.
BUT what I want you to know…my students practicing this music profusely, as well as the avid listeners and the “foreigners” of this music style…is that there is passion, energy, and emotion that can be evoked far past the classical details, far past the strictness, the crazy fingerings and shifting up a dark fingerboard, past the difficult-to-pronounce German and Italian musical terms plastered throughout the music, past its technical complexity, which can be so discouraging due to its simple need for time and patience.
Why yes, having a deep understanding of rhythm and pitch is extremely important (I do not want to understate that); however, having a deep understanding and feeling for musicality is equally as important, yet not nearly as emphasized in typical classical teaching.
I want to encourage those practicing and studying classical music to take a breath. Relax and try not to be overwhelmed with all the things that classical repertoire could be asking you to do. These things will come. Don’t forget to FEEL the music, to understand that you are not only playing another “Minuet” or “Gavotte” from the Suzuki Book, but also that you are playing a ballroom dance or a folk dance for an evening in France. Make the music dance. I want you to dance and play, sing and play, close your eyes and play. I want you to know that you’re allowed to feel and make this music your own.
I know it can be hard to see sometimes, but classical music wants you to interpret it, wants you to improvise, wants you to take freedom and, most definitely, wants you to have love and passion. In my opinion, classical music requires this emotional connection just as much as understanding its complex notation, rhythm, and dizzying array of details.
Zoe teaches violin and viola at Freeway and is currrently pursuing a Graduate Degree in Performance at USC.