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Personal Perspectives

The Magic and Wonder of the Symphony

A Personal Perspective: Experiencing music as it was meant to be heard.

Source: Samuel Sianipar / Unsplash
Source: Samuel Sianipar / Unsplash

From the first moment of entering the concert hall, you can feel it—a sense of magic and wonder. From the milling around and finding your seats to the cacophonous sounds from the players, who are also milling around on stage—preparing scores and checking a few runs. It seems so pedestrian for "classical music pomposity." You sense that you are all about to experience something on a different aesthetic level. Then…the lights dim. Silence falls in the hall. Then…a woman with long flowing hair in a long flowing black gown enters with her violin, the concertmaster, and signals for the oboists to give an "A" (always an "A" because every string instrument has an "A" string.) and the orchestra collectively "tunes" for final preparation. Again silence.

Then…

He appears. Like a messiah emerging, or Gandhi, or Elvis entering the building. He appears—the maestro—in a perfectly fitting tux, with a purposeful walk and baton in hand. There is a swell of applause from both the audience and the orchestra. Anticipation has reached Defcon 1. He gives a comforting smile, assuring us that we are in good hands, shakes the concertmaster's hand, and takes his place on the podium—now hovering above all noble and laypeople in the room. Silence (I can hear my heartbeat in my ears.), baton up, instruments at the ready.

And…

Seventy instruments produce a sound with such precision and depth that it immediately envelops you—now a part of the collective audience—and puts you into an aural trance. I've seen Green Day in a full stadium and Foo Fighters in a packed arena. Van Halen's original lineup at the beach. Top-of-their-game jazz cats at Greenwich Village underground clubs. Hamilton on Broadway. But experiencing a top-notch symphony orchestra in their natural environment is like no other live music experience. Ever. It's auditory nirvana. (And if I had seen Nirvana, I would still feel the same.)

Live and in a Concert Hall

Part of the allure, I think, is that this is how this music is, and has always been, meant to be heard. Live and in a concert hall. Other genres can create audiophilia recordings that cannot be recreated live. The Beatles never played most of their songs in concert, as they were meant to be heard through their recording mastery.

When the rush of music overtakes you, the "chill factor" kicks in. And the dopamine released in your brain produces such a euphoria that you cannot help but smile. You "feel" the music swell throughout your body. You become a part of the orchestra's ebb and flow. You experience it with your entire being and almost feel like you may float towards the heavens. The music creates tension, and when it resolves, warmth floods your veins. Your heart rate entrains to the tempo. The Adagio is calming. The allegro makes your insides want to burst with sonic joy. You become one with the music, and the music becomes one with you. It's a full body-mind-spirit experience.

"Experiencing" the Music

I was fortunate to recently experience the National Symphony Orchestra (at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.) with my recently turned 21-year-old son, who was home from a break from college. He loves classical music (and listens to it on purpose) and all the feels from the experience of the concert hall. And yes, he also loves rock, hip-hop, experiential jazz, and Fado (I like to take credit for my children's well-rounded musical tastes from introducing them to a variety of music when they were young.). Certainly, he enjoys music festivals with friends and arena concerts (see Green Day reference above). But seeing the excitement and joy that he felt, sitting next to him, experiencing Dvorak and Rimsky-Korsakov in the element that it was meant to be heard, made it all the better.

This is what "experiencing" music is all about—the artistic emotion and the connections it creates with strangers and loved ones. The full experience was so joyful—the concert hall, the music, the passion, the precision of players who've studied and practiced their craft for a lifetime and…being with my son. That is my happy place. That is my joy. That is my therapy. That is the magic and wonder of the symphony.

This is the healing power of (live) music.

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