Wisdom of Kammbia 3.26: Is Classic Literature Relegated To The Same Fate As Classical Music?

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My wife and I went to the Symphony this weekend for our date night.  We both wanted to try some different than the usual dinner and a movie for our night together.  We thought going to the San Antonio Symphony would be just the thing to take a chance on.

Well, I must admit both my wife and I were falling asleep during the 1st piece by Mozart (Piano Concerto No. 22) and though the second piece by Shostakovich (No. 8) was louder and more interesting than the Mozart piece. I still had trouble staying awake and we both left the theatre before the Symphony ended.

I’m a music lover.  I listen to everything from Jazz, R& B, Rock, Gospel, and Country. So I’m always open to good music regardless of genre but I have never fallen asleep on a musical performance even if I didn’t like it.

I’ve been thinking about that experience all day (Even during the San Antonio Spurs-Memphis Grizzlies Western Conference Finals playoff Game 1. Go Spurs Go!! ) and wondered do modern readers have the same experience that my wife and I did at the symphony.

How many readers have given up reading The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne?  Or Moby Dick by Melville?  Or a fat novel by Dickens like David Copperfield or Nicholas Nickleby?

If so, what can be done about it?  Has pop culture affected our ability to be able to read those aforementioned works or listen to a Mozart or Shostakovich?  Or is both classical literature and music relegated only to the elite in our society?

As you can read, I have more questions than answers or a solid opinion on this blog post.  I would like to know how others feel about it.

I decided a few years ago to make sure I read one classic a year.  I started with Madame Bovary by Flaubert and a couple years ago I read David Copperfield by Dickens.  Last year, I read Utopia by More. I’ve learned in reading these classics than human nature is basically the same regardless of the time period and it has taken me out my comfort zone from the contemporary literature I’m used to reading.

So how can we keep classic literature from suffering the same fate as classical music?  Or is it a lost cause?

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18 Comments

  1. When I was younger and made attempts at listening to classical music for pleasure I would make the mistake of playing it in the background where it would become just a boring sameness, or where Bugs Bunny would kick in and I’d start singing pseudo-opera over everything until I annoyed even myself.

    I think a lot of it has to do with not being familiar with the dialect, so to speak. The more familiar you become with classical music, the more you will know what to actually pay attention to. There’s a lot going on in classical music that I never got to through all my years of studying music. (As a child — in middle, high, and 1 year of college. I was far more interested in rock and jazz. You know… “cool” music.) So despite years of private tutoring classical music was still really some other language for me. I’d learned to make the sounds, but didn’t enjoy it, and didn’t understand it. I didn’t have the time or patience for it. I wasn’t willing to leave behind my own little world view.

    Now that I’ve gained some humility my world has grown. I value classical music more. I find that it has complexity and nuance which repays repeat listenings, whereas even my favorite rock albums need to be put away to rest for long periods of time before I bring them out again because they just don’t offer me anything new. They’ve ceased to have as much relevance to me.

    Falling asleep at the symphony could be because it was a poor rendering. Going to the symphony doesn’t guarantee a good performance. But it’s likely even if it were a stellar performance you just weren’t ready for it. So, my suggestion is, next time you want to go to the symphony — and you should do — find out what will be playing and listen to it a few times, find out what it’s about, listen to different performances, and gain familiarity with it. Classical music rewards familiarity.

    • Christopher,

      Thanks for your reply. I guess I should have not judged classical music from one appearance at a symphony.

      I will need to learn the language of classical music since I was never exposed to it growing up. Fair point.

      I wondering does the classics in literature need to be taught how they should be read to our modern society. If so, how?

      Marion

      • I do think the classics of music and literature (and theater and art, etc) should be taught, but differently than what I’ve seen. The approach you get from pop culture is one of veneration more than reading or listening. And our culture is, rightly or wrongly, very skeptical of veneration, and thus lit and classical music are often viewed as stuffy things we should like so we either affect or reject out of a sort of rebellion against highly lauded things. All of which has very little to do with firsthand experience. Our teachers will do best to give us strategies on how to get more out of our participation with art and exposing us to it organically rather than from the lectern. The critic should make explicit what is implicit, thereby teaching us how to read. Instead many of today’s critics seem more interested in what women’s undergarments our artists wore while composing.

      • Good points, Christopher.

        Coltrane did go too far sometimes. But, every time I heard Love Supreme and Giant Steps always reeled me back into his artistry.

        Actually, I’m more into Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock (solo work), and Wes Montgomery than Coltrane.

      • I love Miles, too, but once upon a time I was a saxophonist. And, too, Miles at some point (from Bitches Brew onward) seemed to want to be a rock star and a personality rather more than anything else. Coltrane, was the quintessential artist obsessed with his art. I’m not a big fan of fusion, so that puts me out with later Miles and what Herbie Hancock I’ve heard. And I’m not familiar with Wes Montgomery. I dabbled up through bebop, and little beyond that.

  2. Marion, I do believe it’s according to personal preference and not based on your experience here–although this is an interesting blog and I enjoy your stories. I often find classic literature–and music, for that matter–more captivating than the contemporary. I’m surrounded by others who feel the same, and I’m certainly not of the elite. The classics aren’t a lost cause. There are many who appreciate and enjoy these genres and probably always will.

    • Tessa,

      It is a personal preference. That’s good to know you have friends who enjoy classic literature and music more than the contemporary in both art forms. Maybe it is not a lost cause.

      I must admit after the reading the classics I mentioned in the blog post…..I was hoping my first symphony would give me that same feeling of gratification. Well, I’m realizing I need to learn the language of classical music and invest some time into in order to appreciate this genre of music.

      Thanks for your comments as always,
      Marion

  3. Interesting article, Marion. For some of us classical music is still alive. In my case, I grew up with it because my parents, especially my father, loved it. I suspect that’s the way we can pass on to the next generation a love for the classics–expose them to it early and often.

    Becky

    • Becky,

      I did not grow up with classical music. The closest I came to classical music growing up was jazz like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and others. Like I mentioned in other comments, I will need to learn the language of classical music to get a better appreciation of the genre.

      I hope we will have the patience for classic literature and readers today will take the time to learn how to read them.

      Marion

      • I’m not a music person at all, so I don’t know how much I understand what I’m listening to. I just know what I like (which is what a lot of people say about the books they read). I’m sure it’s because of the music I was exposed to.

        If you’re starting out with classical music, give Dvorak a try–his 9th symphony, I think–From the New World. The second movement is some of the most soulful, wistful music I’ve heard. Also a favorite of mine is Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto in … D major, maybe. Really has some great moments.

        I prefer Beethoven to Mozart, but my favorite of Beethoven’s is his Sixth Symphony, his pastoral symphony, which I’ve been told is least like him. So I’ve concluded I only like Beethoven but I love the Sixth.

        If you have a radio station that plays classical music, that’s also a good way to get started.

        Becky

  4. I like classical music. I have heard that some classical music was consdiered too stirring back when it was the modern music of its day. Without the help of a teacher, I would have not finished Scarlet Letter. I do have a goal to read a lot more classical literature and to learn more about classical music.

  5. Back to classical literature. I just read, at 57, Dickens’ Bleak House for the first time. Excellent experience. I got it because it was a free Kindle download. So, perhaps, the upside to classical literature being old and passe, is that it is often free. I do better with reading things I hear about and am interested in than the books that I was required to read in school. The sheer volume of new literature that is being produced means that it will all become somewhat diluted. The good news is that literature becomes timeless, and as long as we can understand the language, it will still be fresh and new for someone who discovers it. I thought the original post about correlating classical music and literature is very appropriate. Both can be brand new if you just discover them.

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