To close out Classical Music Month, we caught up with some of our musicians to talk about their experience with classical music and what it means to them.
Houston Symphony: What got you into classical music? Why did you choose your instrument?
Keoni Bolding, viola: I saw a violinist on TV when I was three years old. My parents told me I was too young to start playing, but I successfully sweet-talked my grandmother into purchasing a tiny violin for me when I was visiting. I came home from grandma's house with a violin, and my parents rolled their eyes and signed me up for lessons. As I got older, I had more and more fun discerning the inner voices of a piece. I now find so much beauty in countermelodies and supporting lines. This, along with the fact that some of my best friends in undergrad played viola, led me to make the switch.
Charles Seo, cello: When I was very young, my mother was the church pianist, and she didn't have a babysitter for me at the time, so I grew up underneath her church piano. There, I was exposed to gospel music and classical music. I like to think this is when my music education truly began and also how I developed my musical taste. After I turned 9 years old, my mother thought it would be wise for me to start playing the cello because of its low, resonant tone. She was definitely right—the sound of a cello helps me relax. I'm the type of person who would leave prom early because I can't stand the loud music!
Colin Gatwood, oboe: Both of my parents were in classical music. My father was the principal oboe in the Pittsburgh Symphony. My mom was very active as a freelance violinist and teacher around the area. I used to watch my dad make his oboe reeds in his studio. It looked fun, so I gave it a try!
HS: To someone who has never been to a classical orchestra concert, how would you describe it?
CG: I suppose a classical performance looks formal. We certainly are dressed that way, but if you have never been to a concert, don't let that worry you. You don't have to dress up. Just have a seat, close your eyes, and relax. Our concerts are a wonderful time in my week when a bunch of music lovers, all of us on the stage, and all the audience, get together to enjoy some of the most wonderful art ever created.
KB: It's larger than life: a hundred people on stage uniting their talents to express the heights and depths of human emotion.
CS: It's a truly unique experience. You not only get to hear the sounds created by different instruments but also see how the musicians interact with one another under the maestro's leadership. As musicians, we try our best to execute the conductor's ideas which means the same orchestra playing the same exact piece with a different conductor will sound like a completely different orchestra. This is what makes watching a symphony orchestra perform live much more exciting than listening to recordings.
HS: What do you think the role of classical music is today?
CG: The music we perform, and the way my colleagues play it, always moves me. I always feel like I am a different person when I am walking off the stage after a concert. I am always amazed at how powerful something without words can be.
KB: We exist in such a frenetic age! One way the arts are so special is that they can be both a respite from as well as a reflection of our chaotic world: they can be an escape from the reality of 21st-century life as well as a vivid frame to view it through. Composers have been writing music about the beauty and treachery of the human condition for centuries. I like to look at the modern world through these centuries of expression, and it helps me see just about anything going on in the world with a sharper and more colorful lens. I often thought about my role as a musician in the 21st century, and my brilliant grandmother one time gave me the best response in the form of a Howard Thurman quote: "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
CS: Esoteric. Boring. These are typical words used by the public to describe classical music. It is our job to break this preconceived notion and connect with them. After all, I believe classical music is one of the few genres of music that can be loved by all generations.
HS: Do you think music is transformative? Please explain.
KB: I think all music has transformative powers! The joy of being a musician is being able to transform an idea on a page into an emotion others can hear and feel. That experience might be the magic seed that transforms a listener. I can recall many times when I was a listener and was transformed by a captivating performance. New growth and new opinions about art and the world inevitably follow. Being on the performer side and being on the listener side are both so thrilling because of this transformative potential that music has.
CS: When I go on my music streaming app, I always find stuff like "Top 10 Soothing Classical Music for Meditation". I'm sure there are many studies done to show the effect of classical music on the human body, but I believe listening to classical music expands your palette of emotional colors and creativity. Just like how we say 'a picture is worth a thousand words', listening to classical music makes you feel certain emotions (often brand-new emotions) that are sometimes impossible to put into words. Even if we can't exactly pinpoint what it is, we know it, and we feel it. Often during my students' lessons, I often ask them what they are thinking of while playing a particular passage. Sometimes they aren't thinking of anything other than what they want for dinner, but there are a few rare moments when I am able to connect with them by describing an image or a scene that comes to mind.