Commentary: Add Classical to Your Playliszt

Imagine falling into bed, cocooned by your pillows as you gently soothe the rhythm of your breathing, slowly discharging all of your stress as you drift off into your dream. Now, stop for a quick second and listen: what do you hear? Is it E.D.M. with its deafening base, or is it rap with its rapid barrage of verbiage? If either is the case, you’ll probably end up twisting and turning for hours, your eyes sore from agitation and exhausted from blinking. Chances are, in this tranquil and ethereal scene, it will be the gentle tease of the violin and the gracious touch of the piano that accompany you into cloud nine. So, why don’t you, dear reader, listen to more classical music?

Okay, I’ll confess that this introduction was unnecessarily histrionic and failed to correctly represent what classical music is, at least to me. These pieces can be so much more than the couple of archetypal tunes that people usually think of when they think of classical music. First of all, classical music is not always so rigid and soporific — look up Sergei Rachmaninoff, Franz Liszt, or Frederic Chopin. For example, Chopin’s “Heroic Polonaise” is so filled with shifting dynamics that no one who has listened to it played has ever fallen asleep mid-performance.

Many believe classical pieces to be long and drab, with each piece consisting of multiple movements. Although this is true to an extent, Chopin’s minute-waltz and Black Key Etude (Op. 10 No. 5) have melodies that are as lighthearted and flittery as their 90-second length. The duration of the pieces does not diminish the impact of the music, as each piece is backed up by dramatic dynamics and demanding technique. I only used Chopin as a example because, as a pianist, I happen to be most familiar with his work; many other composers also defy the stereotypes that are usually associated with classical music.

The truth is, many people—including some musicians—in the modern era no longer listen to classical music. Perhaps an acquired taste (that can be gained only through training of a classical instrument) is required to appreciate this niche style. Perhaps it has to do with something larger; I suspect it’s correlated with our society becoming increasingly fast-paced. I think people nowadays take less time to stop and think due to the influx of “noise” we have readily available on radio, mobile phone, computers, et cetera. Mainstream music in the 21st century is definitely equally as beautiful in its own right, but it is hard to deny that it has been reduced in complexity when compared to its predecessor, adapted to fit with our societal taste. I think anyone, at one point in time, has realized that most trending songs sound the same (meaning that they have the same four chords and a similar tempo). At any rate, the steady decline of the greatest composers who have stood against the test of time is apparent.

Admittedly, I am trying to preserve this dying but noble artform by convincing you to start listening to classical music. The famous “Mozart effect” experiment, conducted by Dr. Frances Rauscher, showed that students who listened to Mozart’s sonata K.448 performed noticeably better on “spatial temporal tasks” than those who simply listened to meditative relaxation instructions.  Furthermore, Dr. Järvelä from the University of Helsinki showed that listening to Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 heightens gene activity, especially those of which are “involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic function, learning and memory.” In simpler terms, classical music may help our brains to become more plastic and more capable of abstract reasoning. To what extent, I’m not sure, as further research is needed. But, as students, these are improvements that I think may prove to be helpful in school.

In the end, everyone should have the freedom to enjoy whatever music they wish, whenever they see fit. But I firmly believe that classical music has the unique harmonious ability to complement pretty much every occasion in life, as long as you have time to press that play button. So, without further ado, try mixing some sonatas and concertos into your bottomless ‘playliszt’—I promise it will be worth the while.