Saving Mozart

While you’re waiting for me to start blogging, I thought I would publish a few of my “Saving (composer’s name)” series that I wrote for the Community MX blog some years back. This first one is about “Saving Mozart”. My son was in 8th grade when I wrote it. I mention the incomparable Peabody Conservatory in the post, and never dreamed that today my son would be a music major attending college there. So, here is the first in four “Saving” posts that I will add to my blog.

Saving Mozart
Posted Friday, May 13, 2005 12:59:37 PM by Sheri German
After three years of sitting in on the Howard County Middle School Gifted Talented Orchestra, it’s all over. My son joined the viola section in 6th grade, and I stayed for rehearsals partly because we live a half hour away and driving home, then back again made no sense. I also stayed, however, because I liked watching the music evolve from the first sight-read train wreck to a finished, polished gem. I liked watching the director, a master teacher who handled the children with skill and humor, mold pieces in the shortest time possible, as the bird flies. I fell into creating and managing the orchestra web site, helping with chairs, and organizing parent volunteers.

It’s all over now. My son is graduating from eighth grade. He probably didn’t always like having me there. I probably won’t be able to sit in on the equivalent high school orchestra, Howard Regional Youth Orchestra, that he hopes to join. So it is with a great deal of melancholy that I attended the final HCMSGTO concert of the year. I sat amazed, as always, at the quality of an orchestra that auditioned and accepted only children who played at a high level because they were willing to practice diligently. Still, even among these children, few will become professional musicians. There are just too few spots for professional classical musicians, coupled with ever dwindling audiences.

Why don’t young people like classical music? Or is it just that they think they don’t like classical music because of all the misconceptions out there? Even those with the best of intentions write things like “to become relaxed before bed, listen to classical music.” No wonder young people don’t give it a chance. I don’t like deadly dull, soporific music either. And classical music. is. not. dull. Nothing beats the savagery of Stravinksy’s Rite of Spring cranked up loud while you’re driving 70 on the Interstate. Shostakovich’s Piano Trio in e minor would give any heavy metal piece a run for its money, written as it was on the theme of Jews being forced to dance before being shot by the Nazis. Or how about this? Last summer we drove through the Austrian Alps with Wagner Overtures blasting from the bus CD player. Everyone–young and old–got a rush from that. Classical music appeals to my Dionysian side, not my meek and mild side.

So how do we save Mozart? A lot rests with our music educators, many of whom are confined to teaching in janitor’s closets, like our daughter’s string orchestra teacher was for her first couple years of high school. Engaged in an underground movement of sorts (competing as they are for dollars that many parents would prefer to see put into sports), the dedicated music teachers of Howard County are answering the challenge. At the final orchestra concert, the superintendent of music took the mike and told the audience that Howard County had just been named one of the top school systems in the country for music.

It helps that our county is within spitting distance of Peabody Conservatory (a division of John Hopkins), and is awash with the highest quality teachers, both private and in our schools. It helps that we have educated families who recognize the value of music lessons and are willing to see that their children get them. But what will save Mozart is the dedication of our music teachers as they give time to all the extracurricular orchestras, bands, and festivals that the county hosts. Yes, most of the children in these groups will not become professionals, but they will become audiences.

And as wonderful as it is to have YoYo Ma and Joshua Bell and Wynton Marsalis, in the end only audiences – head over heels in love with the music – can save Mozart.