March 4, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘5 Minutes That Will Make You Love String Quartets’

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5. Choose one musician or composer whose work was particularly powerful to you. Then, seek out another one of that person’s songs to listen to. Are you able to hear similarities and differences between the two songs?

After reading the article, do you better understand classical music? Do you think you have a greater ability to appreciate it? Do you think it is important for more young people to care about classical music? Why or why not?

Yuanlin Liu, one of the winners of our 2020 Student Editorial Contest, wrote an Op-Ed called, “Spotify Is Killing Beethoven … Here’s How You Can Save Him!” Yuanlin argues that algorithms are impeding the digital growth of classical music, writing:

In rejecting classical music, we neglect its unique and timeless emotional depth. It is an abstract representation of the composers’ meditations on the world, expressing complexities when words are inadequate. Cambridge composer John Borstlap asserts that classical music offers an “alternative to the modern world” instead of the “reflection” or escape from reality that people seek in pop lyrics about sex or drugs. From Brahms’s melancholic tunes, to Schumann’s rhythmic introversions, to Tchaikovsky’s impressive harmonies, classical pieces preserve our inner peace to balance out the external bombardment of indigestible information from society. Such is the perennial virtue of classical music.

  • What do you think? Are we losing something by not preserving and appreciating classical music? Or do you think classical music is rightfully being sidelined by contemporary pop, hip-hop, country or rock music?

  • Do you think it is important to appreciate classical music as it was first written and intended? Or is it OK, or even necessary, to reinterpret classical music alongside contemporary musical styles? For example, what do you think about artists and young people who are trying to make classical music more relatable? Matt Kent, a musician, turns classical music into pop songs on TikTok. KO, an artist and musician, plays his cello on TikTok and invites others to make duets and collaborate virtually alongside his music. Do you think these are important ways to help people connect with classical music? Or are they butchering the genre?

  • In the past year, The Times has covered several stories on the role of Black artists in classical music. In “Black Artists on How to Change Classical Music,” nine performers describe their recommendations to change a predominately-white industry. Roderick Cox, a conductor, says:

I would like changes to be made in how we train musicians in conservatories and universities. A lot of our thinking, and our perceptions of what’s good music, becomes indoctrinated at that stage. I say this because even though I’m a person of color, I was guilty of not being accepting of new voices and styles outside of Beethoven, Schumann, all the usual music of the past. When we start with preconceived notions, we limit ourselves. People are afraid of being uncomfortable, but with discomfort comes growth. If students learn about composers like William Grant Still or Florence Price — and their approaches to making music — then they will become more versatile. And we will see that change taking place in our programming; schools won’t just be producing conductors who want to do Wagner, Strauss and Mahler. I love these composers. But there are more voices to hear.

In your experience, do you often see Black people, and other people of color, in classical music orchestras or opera performances? If you have learned about composers throughout history, did you learn about white composers as well as composers of color? What do you think should be done to ensure that classical music is more diverse? How important do you think diversity is to the viability of classical music?

Choose another listening experience from the “5 Minutes That Will Make You Love” music series:

5 Minutes That Will Make You Love String Quartets
5 Minutes That Will Make You Love the Flute
5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Beethoven
5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Sopranos
5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Baroque Music
5 Minutes That Will Make You Love the Violin
5 Minutes That Will Make You Love 21st-Century Composers
5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Mozart
5 Minutes That Will Make You Love the Cello
5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Opera
5 Minutes That Will Make You Love the Piano
5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Classical Music

As you listen to another aspect of classical music, you can follow the same listening guide from the “Questions for Writing and Discussion” section. Then, choose one song that you fell in love with from the new article — or from your own search — and share it with someone else in 150 words. Using the featured article as inspiration, write your description of the song and explain why it’s worthy of musical appreciation.


About Lesson of the Day

Find all our Lessons of the Day in this column.
Teachers, watch our on-demand webinar to learn how to use this feature in your classroom.

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