Falling In Love For the First Time (Again)

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Romeo and Juliet
Mariinsky II before the curtain rose on an unforgettable performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet

“We’re killing our own classical music.”

This is what I said with horror at the end of junior year as I realized with horror the elitism and antiquated nature of the classical music institution that I had once loved with all my heart.

The graying hairs of the concert halls, the emphasis on polished technical perfection over raw artistry, the limits of my own skills despite the amount of tireless hours I have put in, the elitist traditions, the lack of diversity in concert programming that glorifies composers like Bach and Beethoven over everyone, the politicization of music, the inherent sexism, the lack of emphasis on improvising or even developing your own artistic soul…

What was I doing devoting my life to such an institution? It made me question everything. I felt like the gilded exterior had fallen away and for the first time I was seeing classical music for what it was—something I didn’t want to be a part of.

And so,

I quit.

(And ran away to Russia…)

At first it was liberating. For one, I suddenly had so much time (25 extra free hours a week!). I could do things like hang out with friends, go to museums, or watch movies all day without feeling guilty about not practicing. I was experiencing life! I was not in a practice room!

But then about two weeks in I started to miss it so much it hurt in an almost physical way.

So I went to a concert, and for the first time in a long time, I felt—inspired.

The first concert I went to was in the Bolshoi Zal of St. Petersburg Philharmonic and it was absolutely sold-out (from weeks before in advance). As I took my seat, I noticed that not only was the hall packed but the people in the hall were from all walks of life—old, young, students, parents, children…and the excited energy was palpable.

In a way the concert was very similar to the first concert I had ever gone to in my life in that I knew almost nothing about the concert. The concert was all Shostakovich (a composer I knew woefully little about) and I didn’t buy a program.

It was an odd feeling not having any sense of time or movement. It was an odd feeling having no expectations going into the concert.

And it was a beautiful feeling. It felt like I was falling in love again for the first time.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like being at a concert here. The energy that you feel as you sit there is tangibly alive in a way I’ve never experienced before. Everyone is there for the music. People cry openly. They cheer. They nod along. They mouth the words to a chorus (if there is one). They close their eyes and sway. They shout bravo. They clap in unison whenever they feel genuinely moved to do so. The energy is so strong it carries you into the concert. It’s a feeling that enters your soul, your being, and fills you from deep inside.

And the musicians aren’t perfect. There were definite entrances that were too early, harmonics that were missed, runs that weren’t very clean…but it all didn’t matter because of the energy…

I was there at the concert for two hours, but I carried the concert with me throughout the entire night.

And later, as I smiled through my tears, I think that was when I realized just how much I love music.

Classical music is not dead.

Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that I think that there are problems within the classical music world. It doesn’t change the fact that I know the realistic limits of my own skills.

But my faith in the power of music and the power of art has been restored and my desire to forever share classical music (no matter the shape or form) has been reaffirmed.

My love is not a blind one but it is a genuine one that is for the music and the power that I know it can still hold.

It’s a part of my soul and a part of who I am, and my joy at finding others (especially those who aren’t classically trained and come from all walks of life) who feel the same way as me was incredible.

 It’s that special energy that I want to devote my life to so that people can bring that feeling of warmth and connection, of being a part of something bigger than themselves home with them…

So far I have been to more concerts than I can count on my hands. Every single one has had that special energy. I’ve cried in almost all of them. I’ve met friends there who cried with me. It’s been incredibly cathartic, and each experience has further reaffirmed my love for music and my desire to keep playing piano no matter what.

Classical music is not dead.

And even I, weather-beaten and disillusioned conservatory student, can have the power to fall in love with it like for the first time all over again.