Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

If there is one thing 2020 has taught us it is that we can only control so much – but what we do control has the power to make us happy and keep us calm in uncertain times.  It is in that spirit that I think everyone should track down a copy of Year of Wonder by Clemency Burton-Hill and embrace the power of music to comfort and delight you in 2021 and years to come.

First published in 2017, this wonderful book is a daily guide to classical music.  A broadcaster and musician (and actress and journalist and…many, many things), Burton-Hill put it together after years of making playlists for friends and hosting radio programmes, eager to help introduce others to the genre she loves and yet which seems so far removed from many people’s lives.  As she puts it in her introduction:

What I am determined to do…is to extend a hand to those who feel that the world of classical music is a party to which they haven’t been invited.  I want to open up this vast treasury of musical riches by suggesting a single piece to listen to every day of the year: by giving it some context, telling some stories about the people behind it, and reminding you that it was created by a real person – probably someone who shared many of the same concerns as you, who wished to express themselves and happened to do so through this particular sequence of musical notes.  It’s really important to remember that music does not exist in a vacuum: it requires listeners, audiences, witnesses in order to come alive; to be heard, to be felt.  And that’s you!

With one piece selected for each day of the year, Burton-Hill guides listeners through familiar classics, forgotten gems, and contemporary works.  It is an exciting collection and for every work of genius by Mozart or Bach (who rightly have multiple entries throughout the year), there is something I would never have found by someone I have never heard of.  Refreshingly, Burton-Hill includes pieces by more than 40 female composers.

Though the main goal of the book is to demystify the genre for those who might have viewed it as an elitist art form, the book is just as rewarding for those of us who have been attending classical concerts all our lives and listen to little else.  I grew up in a house where classical music – so cheap and easy to access in our modern world, thanks to radios, home audio systems, and now the internet – was always on and where trips to children’s programmes at the symphony started so early that I can’t remember my first concerts.  My mother was raised in a world where everyone went to operas and concert halls, travelling by tram and sitting in boxes alongside teachers and factory workers, so took it for granted that music was necessary for everyone.  She lulled her babies to sleep with Brahms and Mozart and we accordingly assumed it as part of our lives.  It wasn’t until we started spending time at friends’ houses that we realised this wasn’t the case for everyone – and frankly that still boggles my mind.  Clearly, what those friends (and their parents) needed was this book.

While some pairings of music and day are significant – many composers are featured on their birthdays and national independence days marked by compositions from proud sons/daughters – others are more whimsical.  In January she offers up “music that feels like a large glass of red wine” and later a piece to console listeners simply because it is mid-February and we all need a bit of consoling as we wait for spring.  The descriptions of pieces are engaging and informative, giving context to the pieces and their composers, and never more than one page long.

My only quibble – because I am the least technologically-inclined millennial in the world – is that the music itself is available only on streaming playlists (on iTunes and Spotify) and not in a mammoth CD collection.  I hate having my devices nearby when I read and would love to be able to put the music on easily while I read.  But recognize that I am a dinosaur and need to get with the times.  Or burn my own CDs…

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A Musical Interlude

It’s Victoria Day here, a glorious holiday Monday that I intend to devote to reading, strolling about, and, should the weather cooperate, gardening.  But for those of you have to face the drudge of the work week already, here’s a delightful bit of music that never fails to lift my spirits: Dvořák’s Humoresque, performed by Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma. 

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A Night at the Opera

credit: Vancouver Opera

Last night, my brother, my aunt, and I went to see Vancouver Opera’s production of La Traviata.  For Christmas, we had offered my aunt an evening with us at the cultural event of her choosing and, to my delight, this is what she picked.  Even my brother, who has spent his whole life saying how much he dislikes opera, enjoyed it and was caught up in Verdi’s timeless melodies.  And I, after years of listening to operas on the radio, watching film recordings, and studying librettos, finally got to see one performed live.  Growing up, my parents took me to the ballet, to the symphony, to plays, and to musicals but had absolutely no interest in opera, hence the gap in my education.  It was an interest I developed on my own and I’m so excited, now my aunt and I are living in the same town (which, with all the travelling she and my uncle did while I was growing up, has never happened before), that I will have someone to go with!

Erin Wall was very good as Violetta and the gentlemen, though unimpressive in the first two acts, came on strong in Acts III and IV.  The costumes were lovely, the simple set impressively versatile, and the direction, by Jonathan Miller, superb in the small moments as well as the large. 

But what was particularly delightful last night was seeing how young the crowd was at the theatre.  At least half of the audience was under forty, a startling number of which were twenty-somethings there with friends or dates.  How encouraging!

For a taste of my evening, here’s the Vancouver Opera’s ‘trailer’ for the production and a clip from several years ago of Erin Wall singing Violetta with the Arizona Opera’s production of La Traviata:

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Nothing To Do With Anything

This song just makes me happy.  I can (and frequently do) just listen to it over and over again with a big grin on my face.  It has whistling.  Who can resist a song with enthusiastic whistling?  Who would want to?

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