Confessions Of A Pretentious Classical Music Elitist

Inspired by this writing prompt at The Daily Post

When I was in fifth grade, my music teacher gave my class an assignment. We had to bring in one piece of music, identify some rhythms in it, and try to identify what time signature it had. (Time signature means how you count a piece: for example, all waltzes are in three.) The piece I chose came from a CD called Classical Favorites that my parents often played when we ate dinner and was an orchestral arrangement of Beethoven’s Für Elise. My mom let me borrow the CD and I proudly brought it into class, where my teacher played the track on her CD player while all of us listened.

On the car ride home that day, I was full of righteous indignation. “Can you believe I was the only one to bring in some classical music?” I said. “It doesn’t surprise me at all,” my mom said. It was true: out of fifteen or so students, only I had chosen classical music. Everyone else had made the rather bad, in my opinion, choice of some form of pop, rock, or metal music. (The only other piece I can remember was from my classmate Molly, who chose a song from a group called the “Suicide Machines.” Apparently this fact was distinctive enough to stick in my mind all these years.)

As it turned out, the fifth grade music class assignment was only a harbinger of what was yet to come. I started playing violin in sixth grade and listened to even more classical music, while my classmates listened to Britney Spears and other pop singers. I couldn’t have told you what the latest popular song was, as I was obsessed with listening to and eventually learning to play the Mozart violin concerti. While my peers filled their iPods with rock and rap, I listened to Boccherini and Tchaikovsky on my CD player (and later my iPod, after I made the switch).

What I have neglected to mention is how lonely I was in my music tastes during my early teens. No one my age cared to discuss classical music with me; at best, they ignored it and at worst, they actively made fun of me. I thought the whole experience was stupid. Take my word on this: it’s galling to have your musical tastes criticized by someone who listens to what amounts to rhythmic speaking of swear words—apologies to anyone who listens to rap, but I’ve never had a high opinion of the genre.

Two things happened that made things better. First, when I was fourteen, I started playing in a youth orchestra. No one from my high school, save for one girl, played, so not only did I have the opportunity to make some very good friends, but my fellow orchestra players were as familiar with classical music as I was. We had all played the same pieces and since most of them liked playing their instruments, they harbored some affection for classical music. I finally had people to discuss Mozart sonatas with.

The second thing that happened was Facebook made it to my high school. This was about two years after I started playing in youth orchestra and one of the first things we new users discovered was groups. Groups aren’t as much of a thing on Facebook anymore as they used to be, but in the early days, they were all the rage. I found one called “Pretentious Classical Music Elitists” and I was instantly hooked.

You see, the people in this group were heavily into classical music. They argued on the discussion threads about which was the best recording of the Mozart violin concerti (it’s the Arthur Grumiaux version, obviously), was the Mendelssohn E-minor violin concerto better than the Beethoven violin concerto, and was it even possible for people who weren’t musical geniuses to learn to play the famously difficult Tchaikovsky violin concerto. At last, I was in my element.

After I graduated from high school and went to university, I didn’t have time to play in an orchestra anymore, but I kept taking violin lessons. I also began to share my love of classical music with classmates. In Russian class, when we had to say what kind of music we liked for an exercise on a certain grammatical structure, I loudly proclaimed my love for classical music. “That’s cool,” one of my classmates said. “I like it a lot, too,” someone else said.

It’s an obsession that continues today. My iPod is full of music written before the twentieth century. I regularly debate with myself on whether I should buy a different recording of the Mendelssohn E-minor violin concerto. We classical music fans are serious about the quality of our recordings.

So yes, perhaps I can be a bit snobbish about my music. For me to regard a piece as good, it has to have been written by someone who’s dead. But that’s part of the fun of having a weird obsession, isn’t it: knowing all sorts of random facts about something that the average person doesn’t know, and wanting to share these facts with everyone you know.

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7 thoughts on “Confessions Of A Pretentious Classical Music Elitist

  1. I can relate! I spent my high school years obsessed with playing Chopin. It can definitely be lonely. I lived in a very rural area where no one cared about anything except country music. It was such a relief to go to college and find others my age who loved classical as well.

    I have at least two- maybe three – recordings of the Mendelssohn violin concerto. Seems like normal behavior to me! 😀

    1. Okay, based on the two comments you’ve left on my blog so far, we need to talk more! A fellow writer, classical musician, and reader of Russian novels? We need to discuss these subjects in greater detail. 🙂

      1. You seem to have been much more successful learning Russian! German is my first language, but since I grew up speaking it and English, I never had to learn them from the ground up. I’ve never been able to learn another language as an adult- it was much harder than I expected and I’m much too lazy, apparently.

        It probably would have helped if I had spent time in Russia, but I never made it further east than Hungary/Czech Republic. The reason I wanted to learn Russian in the first place was because I was obsessed with Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Rachmaninov, which I inherited from my German mother, oddly enough.

  2. Try having to explain to the layman that the instrument you play is the bassoon! Needless to say, I feel your pain. In my role, I often grapple with trying to figure out ways to engage more people in the art form. My hunch is that if they were introduced to classical music in a meaningful way, perhaps more people would be active listeners. Thankfully there are still a lot of people out there, like you, who have a true passion for the beautiful music! I hope you’re still playing violin….if not, it’s never too late to pick it back up!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Nate. I do still play violin, though not as often as I’d like due to a small thing called my job. 😉 I do my best to introduce people to classical music. I’ve sometimes succeeded: a friend at work listened to the classical station on Pandora for the first time in his life recently and liked it. Now if only I can repeat such success will everyone else I know and thus introduce an army of classical music fans upon the world… 🙂

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