But give it a fair go, and you may be pleasantly surprised. After all, you would do your research on a prospective school for your child, the suburb you plan to move into or the company that you are hoping to find a job in. And you swear by the fact that such research helps you make more informed decisions. So, indulge me for a moment and let us apply that same approach to what could be a potential life changer: classical music.
Let us put aside the obvious benefits that classical music brings to the table – stimulating the brain, improving memory power, exercising the imagination and reducing stress.
Let us instead focus on specific life lessons that classical music can teach us:
Classical music celebrates tradition. Brahms owed much of his approach to composition to his idol, Beethoven. Beethoven, in his time, expanded and transformed the musical language that his predecessors, Mozart and Haydn had developed. They in turn, were inspired by the work of Bach and Handel. So this is music that is not ashamed of its roots. This is music that is unapologetic about its heritage. Even contemporary classical music pays homage to the past. In fact, the modern day orchestra still uses for the most part, instruments that had their origins in the 16th century!
Unfortunately, the obsession with the latest fads can often make people cynical about the past. Being “on trend” today becomes such an obsession that we often miss out on the rewards of yesterday’s experiences. Unfortunately, the young are very often suspicious and wary of every institution from the past. Classical music, on the other hand, reminds us that we are all part of a great continuum and we are what we are because of what came before us.
2. Patience and focus
Just as the mystic repeats the sacred chant to reach greater communion with his God, repeated listening to unfamiliar classical music pieces will get us closer to the nirvana they can deliver. But this calls for patience and focus. Classical music is not the trailer; it’s the full feature-length film. It is not the highlights of the Twenty-20 cricket match, but the full five-day test. It is not the comic strip; its the unabridged novel.
We give wine the time it needs to age into that exquisite drink we relish so much; so why not stretch our attentiveness when listening to classical music so we give ourselves the best possible chance to be touched by something truly sublime? Why not develop such an open-minded approach to everything; so we can contend with some of the more unfamiliar and challenging experiences we must all face in life itself!
3. Symphonic thinking
Classical music helps us achieve what I term ‘symphonic thinking’. While the typical pop song is around 3-4 minutes long, the typical symphony is around 25-40 minutes. And it is not only about the duration. The composers and performers of classical music are dealers in subtleties. There is in this music an emotional and intellectual complexity that is demanding, but also deeply rewarding.
Very rarely is the expression in a symphony in simple ‘black and white’. Very rarely is the experience of a symphony one-dimensional. Symphonies, by their sheer depth and breadth, encourage us to widen our view, expand our consciousness and develop an ‘abundance mentality’. By encouraging ‘big picture’ thinking, they help us extend ourselves to encompass more of life, as it were.
At a time when the media seeks to dumb down every concept and cater to the briefest of attention spans, symphonies challenge us to reach for a richer scope that we are all capable of, if we would only stretch ourselves to discern and enjoy a wider range of emotion and thinking.
4. True collaboration
Listen to any orchestra, choir or chamber music ensemble and one of the most arresting impressions is that of true teamwork. To achieve a unified expression, while playing different instruments (or singing in different voices), with different melodies and at different rhythms, is not a easy task. And beyond the mere notes, there are also potential differences in style and interpretation that each member of the group could have.
To subsume all of those differences (across extremely passionate and strong-minded musicians) and achieve a unique oneness of utterance is a staggering undertaking! Can this everyday miracle in classical music concert halls teach us to learn true collaboration at work, at home and at play?
5. Discipline and application
To compose or perform classical music requires a level of technical skill that typically demands years of learning and practice. To achieve that, musicians – even the amateurs – must exercise discipline in practice, which is the only way to master their craft. There are no short cuts and any compromise will show up the musician very quickly.
Can we learn to apply ourselves with greater dedication to all those pursuits we believe are worth our devotion? In the final analysis, classical music is not some fossilized relic or elitist pastime. It has been nurtured by passionate and creative individuals and groups who have often dedicated their lives to creating enduring sound worlds. It can bring us new insights and new thinking if we would only approach it with open-mindedness and enthusiasm. It can stimulate a richer engagement with life. It can help us transcend our limitations. It can help us find true fulfillment.