2020 in Review: Classical Music

If you’ve been reading so far, you’re likely to have noticed that several of these recalibrations are very internal. The same is true of the recalibration that’s occurred in respect of how I view music, and like the other things, just come out of how much time I’ve been able to invest in music this year.

Toward the end of last year, as I began to work on myself more actively, a friend advised I should set some targets that would help track how much work I was putting into myself. In December, I was out with my mum one evening when I remarked to her that one of the things I was most disappointed in myself about was that fact that I had, effort-wise, put very little into my musical education after being provided with the foundation, the resources, and the passion for music. While parts of my musical education are available in different blogposts here and here, the gist of it is that I’ve been trained by professional teachers in Western Classical Piano and Music Theory, but I got tired of the training and quit, and never kept up practice. My dad agreed with my assessment of things and my desire to get back to things, and given I was working part-time, we decided that some of the money I was making could go toward piano lessons in Ahmedabad.

So it was, that once I got back to the city from my holidays, I found myself attending private lessons once a week, while self-studying for Music Theory examinations. I set myself an audacious goal (to say the least), and managed it successfully, which was a personal highlight this year. I celebrated the evening of my just-pass results (April 19) with some fantastic pasta, the taste of which I can recollect even now.

While that was a singular moment that highlighted what the three months I spent gave me, I think the year on the whole has led to a recalibration of my relationship with music, and with Western Classical music in particular.

Until this year, I felt that a lot of it was forced upon me. I’ve previously stated that when it comes to preferences, I enjoy the violin (and stringed instruments) more than the piano. The piano, when played well, prompts a smaller emotive response in me. Combined with how I approached the guitar this year, picking up a fair amount, thanks to my best friend, I tend to believe that I would have much more naturally taken to the violin than how much effort it takes me to play the piano. Even the classes, I reflect back and sometimes wonder whether at any point, I enjoyed it. I know I enjoyed the piano a lot more after I stopped formal classes.

So what I did this year was assess my musical education each day by asking myself if I enjoyed what I learned on that day, or if I enjoyed my practice. Where I didn’t, I asked myself how I could bring myself to enjoy it more, or why I didn’t enjoy it. What I found is that more often than not, the reason I didn’t enjoy something was because I lacked the context to appreciate it. As a result, I decided I would do things.

First, I put myself through this wonderful book (and the allied Spotify playlist) called Year of Wonder, which introduced me to a new piece of classical music (and it’s context) each day. Classical music therefore became more interwoven into the way I approached music. I started to better identify patterns, mathematical logic, and emotion from the story the music was speaking. Each time I was introduced to a new classical piece, I told myself I would read up about it. Whatever I could get my hands on, so I could better appreciate it, and better interpret it. That made me enjoy my practice so much more than I used to.

Second, I pushed myself to study theory in a way that it would harmonize with the practice I was doing, but to try to apply it to pieces of music I was listening to. By making the theory knowledge I was learning a little more practical, I figured I was giving myself the best opportunity to develop a better ear for music, but also see how much the knowledge of theory assisted in the practice of music. Testing the second hypothesis was a lot trickier than the first, but I started seeing how people who enjoyed theory (including the r/musictheory community), found inspiration to create music struck them differently to artists who were gifted with a practical ear.

Recalibrating to think about music has made me appreciate my parents more because I find that they made decisions that introduced me to my passions, and all the blame I attached to them for forcing things upon me was unwarranted. In hindsight, they were more than willing to allow me to quit classes where I didn’t enjoy it, and learning how to play the piano worked to my advantage because the primary way I looked at musical notation was on the piano stave. That was helpful for my theory exams and all of the theory I’ve picked up.

Through all this, it was very helpful to have the backing of my parents’, and the patience and support of my best friend. He even began his own journey into music theory, which means we can talk about what we’re learning together. His teaching style was also incredibly refreshing and very much fit in to how I want to look at music now. As a left-hander who learned the guitar by mirroring him on video-calls, he really encouraged me to find what my fingers and hands felt most comfortable and natural to play, and that allowed me to enjoy the random strumming I did so much more.

In conclusion, what’s changed for me, is that I now view the academic study of music as something that I’ve always enjoyed – with external guidance, rather than pressure. I also recognize that I’ve unfairly laid blame on factors, and I’ve viewed syllabi and performance directions as being binding, rather than suggestive. I love the piano, and I enjoy listening to and reading about the power of music far more than I did in 2019.

So that’s what I’ll carry with me from 2020 for the rest of my life. Whenever I feel like I’m pointing outward for how I think about things, I’m going to look inward instead and see how I can better influence how I think. I’ll put in the yards and the time, and then decide if it’s worthwhile or not. Music, and the piano, isn’t something I should let go of so easily when it’s been such a big part of my life till now. For that I’m grateful.

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