Benjamin Zander Uses Chopin to Illustrate Classical's Emotional Impact

Monday, January 23, 2017 - 11:11 AM

Zander takes to the TED stage with Chopin's Prelude No. 4 Zander takes to the TED stage with Chopin's Prelude No. 4 (TED)

Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra conductor Benjamin Zander has a serious passion for classical music. In this 2008 TED Talk, Zander uses his piano, humor and ability to connect with the audience to not only spread that passion, but to give listeners an all new way to experience classical music. His secret for a powerful experience is simple: he tells us to let the music take hold of us and to embrace the emotions and experience it coaxes out of our memory.

His main vehicle to prove his point is Chopin’s Prelude No.4, a short and melancholy piece that is one of the composer’s better-known works. He briefly explains to his audience what makes it so powerful, then asks the audience to conjure up the memory of someone special who is no longer here. Combined with the knowledge of how Chopin moves the work along, Zander tells us that we can learn “everything he [Chopin] had to say.”

The next time you listen to your favorite piece, or even a new one, keep Zander’s words in mind. Focus on a memory, be it happy or sad, and let it inform how you feel about the music around you. 

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Louis Torres from New York

James Bennett writes: "Benjamin Zander give[s] listeners an all new way to experience classical music. His secret for a powerful experience is simple: he tells us to let the music take hold of us and to embrace the emotions and experience it coaxes out of our memory." So far, so good.

But then, regarding Chopin’s Prelude No.4, "a short and melancholy piece ["melancholy" in the sense of "pensive,contemplative," but not "sad" or "dejected," which are both too specific and not felt by all listeners], he "briefly explains to his audience what makes it so powerful [too early for this; he should wait until listeners have first listened to the music], then asks the audience to conjure up the memory of someone special who is no longer here." A big mistake. Much too specific. What if, for example, the music doesn't elicit such a thought, or suggests something entirely different?

Bennett concludes by suggesting that one should "keep Zander’s words in mind" when listening to music. "Focus on a memory, be it happy or sad, and let it inform how you feel about the music around you."

My own approach to teaching how to listen to music is outlined in "Teaching the Arts to Children," a section of Chapter 15 of 'What Art Is' Read it here: http://tinyurl.com/torres-teaching-music [click on Page 314].

Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts), and Co-Author, ‘What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand’ (Open Court, 2000) - http://www.aristos.org

Jan. 31 2017 01:31 PM

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