Why I close my eyes when I listen to classical music

This came about as a result of my running into a wonderful and very iconoclastic violinist named Hahn Bin (now called Amadeus Leopold). Given how extravagant he looks, it may sound like snark to say, “He helped me realize my why I close my eyes to listen to classical music,” but it’s not snark. It’s the truth, and a compliment.

In a past interview, he once remarked that when he was attending a concert at Carnegie Hall, it seemed to him that most of the audience was asleep. It struck him as a “very expensive nap” to go to Carnegie Hall and doze off.

Now, I tend to listen to classical music with my eyes closed. Had I been in the audience, it may have looked as if I were asleep, but I can assure him, I would have been paying attention.

However, his comment prompted me to wonder why I felt the need to close my eyes in the first place, especially when I later realized that I do not feel the need to close my eyes when I watch him.

And it’s not that I don’t want to, or because he looks so fascinating that I want to look because I just looooooooove his shoes or whatever. Left to my own devices, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about clothing. I could buy twenty of the same one-color long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans and live in them contentedly for the rest of my life, happy that I need never think again about what the hell I’m wearing. I find choosing clothing on the whole to be an annoyance. I couldn’t give a damn about his shoes.

But. 🙂

Let’s face it, classical music is the most emotionally extravagant stuff in the world. We’re talking about 800 years of the best that three continents have to offer — and that continental definition is expanding rapidly. This is the good stuff.

The problem comes about for me — and again, I had to think this through — because most classical concerts put my ears in the Andromeda galaxy while my eyes are dying of boredom. That is why I need to close my eyes. It’s like watching a video where the picture and sound are out of sync with one another. Especially if it’s a clip of a person speaking, the disjointedness between eyes and ears can be so disorienting as to be painful. I’ve seen clips like that where I had to stop watching and just listen.

And I think that’s what’s going on here. Most classical concerts present a massive disconnect between eyes and ears. My ears are off jaunting around the universe, and my eyes are practically asleep. In order to keep that jarring contrast from screwing with what I’m hearing, I need to shut the eyes off.

When it comes to Hahn Bin/Amadeus Leopold, the emotional extravagance of the music is matched by a comparable visual extravagance. I don’t feel like two of my senses are in different time zones. Hence, I feel no need to shut one of them off to keep from feeling disoriented.

It seems that the boring visual presentation of most classical concerts is more distracting than the balloons and makeup this kid uses because it matches the music so poorly.

I’m also amused/dismayed at the really vicious reception this kid has gotten from some of the embalmed stalwarts, including those who bemoan why classical music isn’t Connecting With Young Kids Today. I’ve read more than a few whines about how he doesn’t play enough neeeeeeeeeew music, he doesn’t play enough of this, enough of that … enough of whatever some dust-covered old fart whose been part of the in-crowd for 900 years thinks of as “new” and “fresh.” (I’m not linking to these articles; they don’t deserve the traffic. You can find them if you look.)

You know what? You don’t attract audiences who are unfamiliar with classical music by playing what a bunch of jaded snobs who’ve been in the concert hall since the Harding administration want to hear. While the snobs may roll their eyes at Sarasate because they’ve heard it just oh so many times, to people unfamiliar with classical music, that is new and unfamiliar. The stuff the snobs want him to play is only fresh if you are a jaded snob. If your only exposure to classical music has been through occasional movie soundtracks, commercials, and Looney Tunes, I’ve got news for you: Sarasate is new.

The point of classical music outreach is not to turn everyone into a jaded fart. In the end, I suppose it’s no surprise that the jaded farts can’t get a grip on this simple truth.

Anyhow, he’s really good. Give him a listen.

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