Will Call: Consider the classics

There are few descriptors more polarizing than “classic.”

For some, applied to film, literature and music, it denotes something that has stood the test of time and left its mark so deeply that it has become part of our heritage. Others will simply recall being forced to analyze such works in school and, without the context of the era in which they were created, finding them interminable.

I know some otherwise avid readers who refuse to touch a classic novel on the assumption that they won’t enjoy it. Many in my generation have an aversion to black and white cinema, and I when I go to the Aspen Music Festival there are generally more people my age on stage than in the entire audience.

I think they’re missing out.

Sure, I didn’t enjoy every book I was assigned in high school, but there’s a big difference between Melville and Hawthorne, much less Tolstoy and Woolf. Of course you’d find poetry stilted if you started with Blake instead of Angelou or Cummings. Similarly, there’s “Roman Holiday” and “Dr. Strangelove” to counteract “Citizen Kane.”

Admittedly, I have an advantage in finding content that pertains to me as a white male. Still, as the definition of “classic” creeps closer to the modern era, I’d like to think there’s something for everyone if they took the time to look.

Music is a little trickier. For one thing, although “classical” technically refers to a fairly short period of Western music, it is generally applied to practically everything from the middle ages to the turn of the 20th century, and even to contemporary works in the same style.

Again, it seems to me absurd to lump Hildegard of Bingen and Philip Glass into the same category, but rather than argue semantics, let’s go with the broader definition.

This time, I have to admit that the contemporary has a big leg up. The advent of audio recording was a musical revolution on par with the printing press for books. It brought the world into the home and made it possible for experimentation to find receptive audiences. It gave artists the ability to put their own stamp on their music, rather than composing pieces for an orchestra or a minstrel.

You just can’t compare the last century of music to those that preceded it. The experience of listening to a particular performance of a particular song by a particular musician anytime you feel like it is wholly different from going to the symphony or singing around a campfire.

That’s precisely why classical music still has a place in our society. You can’t always hear your favorite band in concert, but your favorite composer is always playing somewhere. Almost every year, the Aspen Music Festival delivers top notch renditions of some of my favorite pieces. Often, I discover new work in the progress, which I sometimes enjoy and sometimes not.

If you’re not keen on orchestral music in the first place, though, you probably don’t feel like driving up to Aspen and spending $15 on a rehearsal or $80 on a performance that you might not enjoy. Instead, I encourage folks who would consider a little chamber music but don’t want a big commitment to check out the recitals at the Carbondale Branch Library. There, student musicians will perform solo and chamber masterworks for free from 6-8 p.m. on Aug. 6 and 13. They don’t generally announce what they’re playing ahead of time, so you might get Vivaldi or you might Piazzolla.

It’s an excellent chance to find what you like. I bet you’ll discover something.

Will Grandbois had to take Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” off his driving playlist to avoid speeding. He can be reached at 384-9105 or

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