There was an article in the New York Times earlier this week by Edward Rothstein, titled "Classical Music Imperiled: Can You Hear the Shrug?" Rothstein is commenting on a recent book by Lawrence Kramer, "Why Classical Music Still Matters." And Rothstein makes the observation that many ask, not "What can be done?" (the usual point to this type of essay) but "Why should anything be done at all?" Because as fun it is to say why I (for example) enjoy classical music, but is there any point in my recommending anyone else to enjoy it with me (other than any young lady whom I have an interest in )
Rothstein goes on to discuss narrative in music, the obvious
examples of film scores, and also the emotions and stories that are
found in pieces in the standard repertoire.
As for myself, at this time, I have my iPod on, listening to Yo-Yo
Ma playing "The Cellist of Sarejevo" by David Wilde. During the 1990’s
Siege of Sarajevo, a group of civilians in a breadline were killed by a
mortar attack. Vedran Smailović,
principle cellist of the Sarejevo Opera Orchestra, spent the next 22
days playing his cello in the crater of that mortar attack in their
memory. In the open, amidst the mortars, bullets and debris of war.
During the seige, he would play at funerals, in an environment where
snipers hid in cemetaries to target those mourning their dead. This
was a turbulent time. Yugoslavia, which to the outside world a model
of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation, fell apart after the death of
its strongman. And after two generations of being a nation together,
they set upon themselves in an orgy of destruction. It was a time when
soldiers went in under the UN banner, and were themselves targeted by
those who wanted nothing of peace. And then the Americans and NATO
went, and people who were facing genocide saw a future.
I’m listening to Yo-Yo Ma play Wilde’s lament, and I am around some
of those who, as young men and women, went to Bosnia in time of war.
I’m listening to the sadness of a musician mourning the death of
friends, as Americans and Bosnians celebrate the transfer of Tuzla airbase in Bosnia, once the main NATO base in Bosnia, celebrating the end of that suffering, and a hope that a war can end, even as others rage.
Rothstein ends by saying
There, for the first
time, the bourgeois audiences could hear something of their own lives
enacted in symphonic splendor — the dramas of desirous, independent
citizens, yearning, struggling, loving, brooding, recognizing,
regretting, learning — ultimately bound into a single society by the
more abstract society of intertwined sounds reaching their ears. Those
musical stories are still our own, although in the tradition’s waning
years we may, unfortunately, no longer feel compelled to listen.
have a much deserved reputation of not listening, as a rule. But there
are exceptions, as the Bosnians in Tuzla bear witness to as they
celebrate. I don’t know if there was a young American in Tuzla in the
1990s who did as I am doing, listening to a cello lamenting the Siege
of Sarajevo while serving in their defense. But for myself, to listen
to Yo-Yo Ma play, a piece of Tchaikovsky, Beethoven or Ravel, is to
listen to stories they have to say. And my world would be that much
poorer and smaller if I did not have it to listen to.