When someone comments to me that he doesn’t like classical music, that it’s boring and impenetrable, I ask him if he’s been to the movies recently or what his favorite movie is. Not all movies, but most, have soundtracks of classical music, composed for the specific movie, so it’s actually new music. Some movies have used existing music from the classical repertoire, also.
As I listened to the Minnesota Orchestra concert devoted to cinema music last night on the radio, I was struck by how much of the music evoked visuals from the movie it had accompanied. The Mother Ship in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The big sky and expansive prairie plains of “Dances With Wolves.” Denis Finch-Hatton and Isak Dinesen flying in the biplane over the African savanah in “Out of Africa.” The little girl in the red coat in “Schindler’s List.” Swashbuckling sword fights in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
And then I thought how often a classical music piece can throw open my imagination’s doors and windows for a flood of images or a unique “movie” narrative for that music. For me, each piece of music has its own story. All that’s necessary are open ears, open heart and a willingness to listen, i.e. listen only to the music and not the inner chatter of the mind talking about picking up dry cleaning, or checking the mail, or writing e-mail, text messaging, or anything else that requires some concentration. I don’t need Hollywood to show me what images music evokes, although I love that the music from a movie will trigger memories of the movie or seeing it. Day-dreaming while listening to classical music is great fun. I’ve also used it for opening my imagination to solve narrative or character problems while I’m writing. The imagination loves to play.
For example, for the Dvorak Seventh Symphony, I have imagined a country wedding reception in the Czech Republic, everyone dressed in traditional costumes, dancing in dipping swirls. Superimposed over that is the memory of hearing this symphony in concert and the exhilaration I felt.
Beethoven’s piano sonatas have taken me on sea voyages, to a ballet recital, on a deer or bear hunt (Schubert’s piano sonatas, too), and drifting in a canoe on a quiet lake in the moonlight.
Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto conjures mental pictures of 1950’s New York City. J.S. Bach’s music takes me into the clouds, flying high above the earth, uncluttered by any concerns and simply being in the moment, in the sound.
Evan Quinn, as focused as he is on the composer’s score when he conducts, experiences also mental images, memories and feelings evoked by the music. This humanizes his work and relationship with the music, and also gives me opportunities to reveal his character and background. Each person brings his own personal experience, personality and background to music, whether performing it, listening to it, or composing it. Evan’s emotional experience while conducting, however, needs to be restrained, under his control, fleeting at times, while his focus is always on the score, leading the orchestra. But he’s only human….
Evan also loves movies.