Last week I had a pleasure to be a conference artist at the Oregon Music Teachers’ Association (OMTA)’s state conference in Florence, Oregon. I started with a public presentation, followed with a masterclass, and finished with a solo piano performance of 시음 /si-úm/ at the last night. I must say that it was quite intense for me as it is not that easy to switch gears from a public speaker to a teacher and a performing artist in such a short time, yet I felt that people really had a maximal experience of what I could offer in a diverse way. Plus there is something very beautiful about spending days with the same group of people, having some quality and quantity of time to get into deep conversations and get to know each other well.
One of the big thoughts that I shared with fellow music educators throughout the conference was that we all have a mission - to nurture our students to be spokespeople and patrons of this beautiful art form of classical music. The real value of what we do is when students can translate what they learn from those music lessons and apply those artistic expressions into creating a harmonious society and make themselves healthy individuals. Those students will positively impact our community and shape our future with that musical expression.
Sometimes I am asked why classical music? Why is it that you think you’ve been able to draw younger people into enjoying classical piano? What do you do differently?
Many older generations experienced classical music as the main source of entertainment at home or at the local theatre when they were growing up. In the world of so much stimulation in which we live I find that the younger generations need a little more guidance or at least the first experience of being guided into classical music. It is not that they wouldn’t be interested in classical music, but they never have a chance to experience it properly. I talk to an audience like a friend who happens to be a concert pianist as if I invited them to my living room to play a piece that I am passionate about. I assume nothing, and there are no program notes, nor a list of pieces that I will play, but me on a stage with a microphone to guide and embrace it as a journey which we take together. I create a bridge by sharing my feelings about the piece, struggles, victories, stories, and emotions connected to the piece. I then open a path to them to get into their stories and feelings about the music as they listen. My goal is to be a vessel for the music so that they can get its core message as directly as possible. The more they connect with me, the easier it is for them to bypass me, the pianist, and get to their souls which directly communicate with the music. They finally get it when they are properly given the opportunities, and they think that music of Beethoven and Chopin is ‘cool’! I believe that we don't have to change the content of classical music for a modern audience, but simply change that wrapping paper around this amazing content of music to deliver it.
About 300 years ago classical music was the pop music of the European culture. Chopin would then be a friend of yours introducing his new compositions at a cocktail party, but the wall between a performer and the audience has grown higher as time went on. Many unspoken rules and traditions have been created around the culture of classical music over the years. When one attends a classical concert, there is the assumption that you know a lot about classical music, you should wear formal attire, you would know who Chopin was, and there is a performer who would never interact with the audience and disappear after the concert, program notes explain the background of the piece like a history book, and there is always an intermission of 15 minutes after 45 minutes of music before another 45 minutes of music. As much as I am familiar with these traditions, I am also aware that these assumptions and rules could drive a potential new audience away from giving classical music a try, thinking that it is only for a certain type of people or their grandmothers. That is why I would like to break the barrier down as much as possible. I know that the content of the cup - the beauty of classical music - is timeless, but I could always change the cup to have a more contemporary look so that people would drink from it much more comfortably in this 21st century. To me classical music is a gift to humanity - it carries solace, joy, healing power, peace, and the ability to connect with others and oneself in the spirit. It is about raw human emotions that existed 300 years ago, as we would feel the same way in the 21st century. I want to let people know that this amazing gift, like mountains and rivers in nature, is available to everyone. I push these boundaries so that more people can experience the beauty of classical music and benefit from it.
What about you? Do you listen to classical music? I am sure you do! You are a part of my newsletter family! Still, I would like to give you one challenge for this summer, which is to listen to one piece of classical music as a sole activity. Not as a background, not in a car, but to solely listen to that music. Closing the eyes is also a wonderful way to engage in the art. Simply take a flight with that music during that listening treat. I promise that it will do good to your soul. Please share your experience with me!