If you’ve heard five seconds of Beethoven, you already get classical music
If you’re acquainted with the opening of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (dun-dun-dun-duuuuuuuuuuhhhnnn), then you’re already pretty familiar with what an orchestra does:
- Performs acoustic music with a lot of musicians. Even if you don’t read music, take a shot at decoding the score above. You can see the very beginning includes the instrument groups of violins, violas, cellos, double basses, and(!) clarinets — close to 50 musicians.
- Communicates ideas, emotions, and/or messages through sound. Beethoven never explicitly said what this iconic musical motive means, but to some of us it’s fate, others fortitude, others victory. We do know he was struggling with the emotional trauma of going deaf as a musician and living through a time overshadowed by war and political turmoil (sound at least vaguely familiar?). The more classical music you discover, the more you will realize that the music captures — in a beautiful way — elements of life that humans like you and me have always and will always face. Sometimes a piece has a particular story, but even if not, composers ALWAYS have stories that have inevitably influenced their music. Beethoven was only human too.
- Explores unparalleled variation in volume. Okay so you have to listen longer than five seconds for this one…within the first fifteen seconds of the piece, the volume goes from forte to piano to forte. This is why classical music is so hard to listen to in the car — pop music (like my go-to Queen B) is recorded within a narrow dynamic range, which makes it ideal for listening while driving, at the gym, on a plane with lots of small children, etc. But a recording of Beethoven might even be annoying in the car because you have to constantly manipulate the volume to hear the music. We play in specially designed concert halls so the audience can hear all of the cool musical details and colors no matter how loud or soft the music gets. If you think concert halls are dated and uninteresting spaces, check out this new chic concert hall that opened in Hamburg, Germany last year — www.elbphilharmonie.de/en.
In order to enjoy a concert, that’s basically all you need to know. In truth, you don’t need to know anything — my favorite part of concerts is actually getting caught up in the absence of thought. When you hear Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, you’re thrown into the life of a brilliant and troubled man in a rollercoaster of a world. You might find that you relate to some of Beethoven’s experiences and ideas and emotions, and that his music expresses them in a way you had struggled to explain in words.
Give it a shot!
 this is what we call the sheet music that includes all of the instrumental parts — a conductor has this on the podium to keep track of the music
 classical music’s term for “song”
 forte = loud, piano = soft — standard musical terms are written in Italian, except for many French and German composers starting in the late 1800s, perhaps because they wanted to delineate their national identities
 musical term for volume
 sonic “color” is like visual color — nuanced, flavorful, and oftentimes indescribable