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Learning the Language of Wine: A Musical Revelation

Last weekend, I had the very last minute privilege of attending the Orquestra Simfonica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya (Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra, or OBC), where I saw the second half of “The Knight of the Rose” by Strauss. Having received a free ticket from the very sweet and savvy owners of Somnio Hostels, who just so happened to know the bassoon player, I spent an incredible 40 minutes not a breath away from the string section. I was so close that I could even make out the haute couture label of the black suede pumps of the 3rd chair violist as she swayed to and fro with the from the gentle embrace of the rhythm. The experience itself was mesmerizing, breathtaking and intellectually astounding. I walked away feeling like a brilliant layer of pixi dust was spread across my spirit, leaving me with in a gigantic heap of unanswered questions, such as:

  • Why does the percussion session seem to pay special attention to the conductor, while the string section appears obvious to his presence?
  • What’s the difference between a symphony and orchestra?
  • Are symphony orchestras primarily composed of natives or are they a mosh pit of individuals cherry picked from around the globe?
  • When a violist plucks the strings, is there a specific symbol on the sheet music for this and what in the Lord’s name does it look like?

I won’t bore you with my infinite number of questions that poured through my mind, but I do want to highlight the intense feeling of ignorance that sat deep inside me as the players bowed from the semi-standing ovation. The incognizance, thick and unwelcoming, was revealed to me when asked earlier in the evening, “Do you know anything about classical music?” Feeling totally defensive, and slightly shameful, I admitted, “I can appreciate it, but I know absolutely nothing about it.” Sound familiar? On my hour long train ride home from Barcelona, I sat staring out the window wondering why I felt uncomfortable admitting that I didn’t know anything about classical music. Why was I defensive? And then it occurred to me that classical music is not so different than the world of wine. Like wine, classical music is filled with specific jargon that is unique on to itself, with words such as: theme, movement, sonata, trio, coda, moderato, etc; which generally lowers the bar of accessibility to the public. Like wine, classical music is seen in a sophisticated light, where only the knowledgeable may define quality and glean subtleties, whereby making the average joe feel less than comfortable. And like wine, classical music has been reserved for the wealthy and upper echelons, making us normal folk feel like a performance comes at a hefty price.

As these thoughts swirled in my head, a fierce anger and defiance stirred inside me.”Who says classical music shouldn’t be appreciated by everyone?” I stuttered, making the woman in the thick red framed glasses scoot further away from me into her dilapidated chair. “Why isn’t there a hip classical music blog, or a Gary Vaynerchuk of music geeks who brings classical music to the young, eager and passionate?” I muttered to myself while pulling out my iPhone and twittering to the masses: “Decided that classical music is much like wine = loads of elitist bullshit” I ranted that there wasn’t information that was accessible to people like me, people who wanted a story, context and rich texture. I tweeted that all classical music sounded the same, and I needed someone to break it down for me, make it interesting, contextual and useful. (photo by m-oo) And then, something extraordinary happened. Suddenly, people started tweeting back to me:

@solobassteve Loads of em. Tchaikovsky’s ballets are a good place to start for stories, but need to be seen…”
@wineaccguy Actively participating online. I found quite a bit of new music through www.last.fm, especially through their groups” “@pedro_mg because music can be an extremely complex language. I’d say good classical radio station, plus Youtube *and* wikipedia” “@zevrobinson Listen to Beethoven’s 6th symph, close your eyes, see the landscapes, listen to the storm build and break, great storytelling”

For days on end, I discovered a new piece on Spotify, researched it through Wikipedia and then asked questions of the Twitter community whenever I felt lost or confused. Regardless if it was a composer, a musical term, a philosophy or a cultural aspect, the Twitter community continuously came back with suggestions, clarifications and revelations. And quite honestly, while I sit here listening to a beautifully lyrical and ethereal cello piece by Zoe Keating (video below), I’m reminded how often we let our fears of a new language, a complex subject or trying past experiences, step in the way of our learning. Social media provides us with a multitude of avenues to research a question, to submerge ourselves in a topic we’re passionate about. Regardless if it is wine, classical music or underwater basket weaving, the only way authentic learning can occur is by admitting ignorance, embracing vulnerability, and requesting knowledge of our community.

“The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others.”~ John Locke.

If you’re interested in some famous Spanish classical guitarists, I would consider looking into: Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710), Fernando Sor (1778-1839), Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829), Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909), Agustín Barrios Mangoré (1888-1944), Andrés Segovia (1893-1987), Alirio Diaz (1923), Presti-Lagoya Duo (active from 1955-1967: Ida Presti, Alexandre Lagoya), Julian Bream (1933), and John Williams (1941). If you’re into famous Spanish composers, check out: Isaac Albéniz from Gerona, Enrique Granados from Lérida, Joaquín Turina from Seville, and Manuel de Falla from Cádiz.

Portuguese composers might include: Pedro de Escobar, Manuel Cardoso, Duarte Lobo, Filipe de Magalhães, Carlos Seixas, Diogo Dias Melgás, João Domingos Bomtempo, Marcos Portugal, José Vianna da Motta, Luís de Freitas Branco, Joly Braga Santos, Fernando Lopes-Graça and Emmanuel Nunes; organists such as António Carreira or Manuel Rodrigues Coelho; singers such as Luísa Todi or Elisabete Matos; pianists such as Maria João Pires or Sequeira Costa; cellists such as Guilhermina Suggia.

If you have any classical artists, educational websites, blogs or twitter personalities we should pay attention to, please don’t hesitate to share them below!


Gabriella Opaz

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