Has Classical Music Made Us Well-Rounded or just Square?

Thursday, August 19, 2010 - 12:59 PM

An acquaintance recently said to me, "Terrance, I think you might be too square for her" (referring to a friend of hers). That comment got me thinking about the degree to which one's personality is shaped by vocation.

In the music world, brass players are stereotyped as being extroverted, string players as neurotic, and flutists as arrogant. While stereotypes are just that, do you think it's possible that the rules, structure, symmetry and formality of classical music and its presentation causes its listeners to come across as bieng "square" (nerdy, geeky, un-hip). Also: what about your vocation? Are the stereotypes associated with what you do? Do you fit them?

More in:

Comments [20]

Gail from New York City

Terrance, if you are square, I don't want to be round.

Oct. 05 2010 08:34 AM
Frank Feldman

Square, irrelevant dinosaurs. But I'm content to be one.

Sep. 05 2010 11:46 AM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

Appreciation of great music, art, literature makes us less bestial. Great music feeds our souls. I have this fantasy of God pointing her finger at a child being born and saying, "You will compose great music". The first movement of Beethoven's 7th sounds like it is going up to God. Shakes me up a bit and I am very hard nosed.

Sep. 04 2010 12:34 PM
shadeed ahmad from New York City

Terrance with your bold query and the prodigious and beautiful number of responses to it, I'm proud to be so-called square.

I find being called square because of my love of classical music a complement when I consider the shallow minds of my naysayers.

Squares unite! Terrance McKnight for president!!!

Sep. 01 2010 10:43 AM
Bruce N. Miller

People who do not appreciate harmony are very dimensionally limited. With the harmonies and dynamics found in classical music, one finds not only depth but berath of sound which can paint a picture in ones minds eye, can delight, can cause one great emotion. When one like yourself listens to classical music, he is not two dimensional like a square but well rounded, in fact spherical in nature.

Aug. 26 2010 05:27 PM
Raymond from WPB

Great question/post! I have had one goal in this brief life: to become more square. Now, through a gradual evolution and no contrived means, I am almost universally written off as an uncool, aloof, nerd. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

If you keep the great classical music coming, I am sure I can commit to becoming more square!

Aug. 25 2010 06:35 AM
Brian Kennedy from Cranford NJ

Terrance, We all know that "square" wasn't always perjorative. At one time it meant fair, reliable, regular. It's not a shape; not the opposite of well-roundedness. Rather it is in my mind a "square" has wide interests...As the generation of the 20's and 30's aged the youth culture turned this positive characteristic into a term of derision. I've always been quietly pleased with my own squareness; now, if it also defines a lover of great music, I'm all the more proud!

Aug. 24 2010 04:12 PM
carol winer from NYC

I can listen to Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk and Monteverdi all in a row, and feel completely uplifted. And Lizz Wright. Excellence makes me swoon. Your "acquaintance" should spend more time with you....if you are still interested.

Aug. 24 2010 04:03 PM
Mark from Bronx, N.Y.

Hi Terrence,
Goodness no, classical music makes us far more "rounded," sensitive, aware. If listening to composers from Bach through Philip Glass makes me a "nerd," I'll take it. The real stereotype is rap music. Sadly, listeners to pop and rap are LIVING in a stereotype.... I feel sorry for them; they don't know the richness they are missing!!

Aug. 24 2010 03:09 PM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

It's a matter of acoustics. We've all been in venues where the acoustics could have been better for a particular piece of music.

And we've all been in places where the music fits the surroundings so well, it's as if the walls themselves were playing.

When you're in the right place, your music will resonate and you'll know by the echo that you're there.

Aug. 23 2010 09:42 AM
Michael Meltzer

Mr. Ahmad says it beautifully. When you encounter That Woman, the two of you will feel like you have known each other all your lives plus a few lives previous, the world will be complete, and all that peer-pressure-image detritus will go out in the garbage like torn-up wrapping paper.
(Note: The word "geeky" is misused. A geek is the unwholesome person employed in carnival sideshows to do unspeakable things, like biting the heads off live chickens.)

Aug. 23 2010 05:29 AM
shadeed ahmad from New York City

Terrance, don't feel too self-conscious about your friend's comment about you being square.

Square is relative. You might have found the woman who was the topic of the conversation too square for you. It's all in what you like and know.

There is no use in trying to force a square peg in a round hole.

I see beautiful women all day in New York City and on my job, but it takes more than looks to turn me on.

I tend to believe that most people who love Classical Music are wired to a higher sensitivity of life and beauty.

There are a lot of beautiful people in New York City, but a lot of them have no manners or desire to think of anyone except themselves, unless they are trying to lure you into their web like a spider.

When you run into folks on a strongly similar wave length as you (along with manners, compassion and curiousity about life) artistically, you'll smack your boss and grab a beer and run out of WQXR and jump on your bicycle....(smile).

Seriously, its all in GOD'S Good Time, just keep your light within shining. You have a brilliant light, a lot of women are just blind to it. You don't need to be with someone you have to keep trying unnaturally to show who you are. A spiritual woman is the best woman. There's a lot to be said about vibes. That's how my wife landed me.

But, that's just me talking. We all make our own choices..... Sincerely, Shadeed R. Ahmad (8-22-10)

Aug. 22 2010 03:46 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from Lake Hiawatha, NJ

We are all lucky to have, no matter when we were born or where, anecdotal experiences of the good and bad, and that applies to music, the theater and art, as we, almost by osmosis, absorb from our subconscious many, many scenarios. My dad, Dr. Morris J. Lane, was a published poet and an optometrist, who played many instruments: trumpet, saxophone, guitar, ukelele, and clarinet simply for pleasure, entusiastically as an amateur. Mom, who loved music was a lawyer and knew at the Community Center in Jersey City the Broadway musicals composer Jerry Herman's mom . We all have a niche. Lucky that we do.

Aug. 21 2010 01:11 PM
Nicole A. from New Jersey

Classical music composers and performers often have artistic temperaments and are quite unconventional. Why would the same not be true of those who love and admire the works of those composers, or who enjoy listening to certain performers? Besides, classical music encompasses a wide range of styles and moods, and appeals to all kinds of people, "squares" as well as hip dudes and cool dames!

Aug. 20 2010 10:30 PM
Joy from NYC

RE: Are there stereotypes associated with what you do? Do you fit them? YES and NO. As an actor/writer, if I say "I'm an actor" the response is typically unspoken yet quite clear--"she must a 'kept woman' with vain aspirations" (and that's the PG-13 version of what's being said, silently of course) or perhaps even more pitiful, "She must be a fool." And then, I'm simply dismissed. BUT if I say, I'm a writer, the response swings sharply in the other direction: "Ohhhhhhh, well, what do you write?!" So, the perception sways from idiot to intellectual in one fell swoop. Interesting, always.

Aug. 20 2010 09:37 PM
Newton from Brooklyn, NY

Terrance, we all know the sad truth of the matter. Lovers of classical music will always be the minority, and anyone who restricts himself to symphonic music is sure to be headed down the "Squaresville" path. (But then again, Terrance, you're no square. Your ears are open to all kinds of music -- jazz, popular, and world music -- aren't they? A true "Square" would limit himself to just one. But a music lover would find his love in many forms [just the same as a lover of women would find beauty in many different kinds of people]...
Nope, Terrance, you're no Square... I say you should go for that girl !!!!!!!)....

Aug. 20 2010 09:35 PM
Hollie from CT

"While stereotypes are just that, do you think it's possible that the rules, structure, symmetry and formality of classical music and its presentation causes its listeners to come across as bieng "square" (nerdy, geeky, un-hip)."

Just thought I should maybe point out that nerdy and geeky are currently quite hip.

Aug. 20 2010 09:32 PM
Mr Tim Rankin from Sugar Hill, New York

Lovely comment, Mr Meltzer, and thanks Mr McKnight for drawing attention to what cannot be otherwise known as "Dog-and-dog-owner-look-alike" syndrome.

Aren't we shaped by our vocations? Most certainly or my Brazilian sister-in-law would not have said my hands were too small for manual labor. I look like what I do; don't many of us?

Stay Square,
Mr Tim Rankin

Aug. 20 2010 07:57 PM
Michael Meltzer

(Sorry for the extra hit.) When I was younger and known more as a pianist than as anything else, the stereotype I enjoyed most was,"The piano player is always the guy who is aware of everbody in the room and everything that's going on, without ever having to look up."
I don't want to say anything to discourage that stereotype, it's too useful!

Aug. 19 2010 05:31 PM
Michael Meltzer

If rules, structure, symmetry and formality are anyone's first impression of classical music they've had a faulty introduction.
My kids, now grown up, tell me about remembering this or that recording or some composer I was favoring on the piano with a lot of nostalgia. They had classical music in the house all their lives, and started responding positively or negatively to pieces when they were two or three years old.
There was no study or formal education about it, just two unbiased, open pairs of young ears and some beautiful sound.

Aug. 19 2010 04:58 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.

Follow WQXR 







About WQXR Blog

Read WQXR's coverage of classical music news, trends, commentary and more here at the WQXR Blog.