The Emotional Space…That Music Can Provide

April 16, 2019

classical music improves life“…We have never needed more urgently the emotional space that music – and classical music in particular – can provide.”  So wrote Clemency Burton-Hill in a January 2018 piece for the BBC’s Culture

In her article entitled: Can listening to classical music improve your life?  Ms. Burton-Hill makes the case for why we need to listen to music at least once a day.  Those of us who are ‘choir members’ know that this is true.  But she is not ‘preaching to the choir.’  Her book A Year of Wonder,  is aimed at those who have somehow managed to miss the incredible power that daily classical music listening possesses to convey what she calls ‘soul maintenance.’

There are a number of interesting quotes in this short read.  “Although I have played the violin since childhood and worked as a classical music broadcaster and writer for a decade, I only fully grasped the miraculous effect of daily engagement with this music after a particularly grueling couple of years…It turned out that, when I converted my listening habits to a conscious daily ritual, I began to feel less anxious almost immediately.”  

A couple things in the paragraph above are noteworthy…one might surprise you.  Having worked as a professional classical musician for fifty years, I have known more than a few professional symphony orchestra musicians who do not, (I repeat) do not listen to classical music on a daily basis – strange as that may seem. They just perform it, very well, for a living.

With all due thanks to my mother, I began daily classical music listening when I was four and a half, and have never looked back…still happening.  But I do remember how shocked I was when my stand partner in one of the professional orchestras I played in said to me one day after rehearsal: “You know when I get home, I just put my viola under the bed and forget about all this.”  “Forget about all this?” I queried?  “I mean do you at least listen to classical music at home?” “NOPE!” came the short reply.  It was then I realized for the first time that even some professional classical musicians might not in fact avail themselves of music listening’s potential for ‘soul maintenance.’

Another important line in the quote from Ms. Burton-Hill is: “…when I converted my listening habits to a conscious daily ritual…” (emphasis mine.)  Before we can be moved to the depths of our souls by classical music, we must actually make the conscious choice to listen to it – that is, give it our undivided attention, and not just hear it as a background to other activity.

In A Year of Wonder Clemency Burton-Hill has provided us with a motivating tool to help us make that daily decision to listen.  She has selected one musical composition for each day (plus one) in the year from her personal list of favorites.  And were you to purchase her book today and commence your daily listening, I dare say she might not mind if you started your Year of Wonder on or about April 16th 2019 and ended it on April 15th 2020.

Teaching people how to listen so that they can feel deeply emotionally connected to classical music is, of course, the mission of The Discovery Orchestra. So we wish to give a big shout out to Clemency Burton-Hill!   If you would like to encounter her work locally, Ms. Burton-Hill has for almost a year now been Creative Director Music & Arts at New York Public Radio/WQXR here in the metro area. Avail yourself of the opportunity to listen to her!

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