New Ears Encounter the German Romantics

New Ears Review the German Romantics: This Is Not What I Thought Classical Music Was

I know one thing about classical music: that I know nothing. And with that bold misquotation of Socrates I have proven that the thousands of dollars my parents spent on my University education was mostly worth it. Good day!

I said, Good DAY Sir!

Wait, what were we talking about? Oh, right the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

Okay, as you can see, I’m not necessarily the average audience for anything high class or fancy. I am a writer and sometimes comedian for whom an evening that doesn’t involve reciting my order to a clown’s head is considered a big night out.  Seeing classical music at a beautiful venue is about as far from my regular life as you can get.

I was actually a bit nervous before the show. Was it going to be confusing, snooty or boring? Was it going to be like when I get dragged to church and everyone else seems to know what to do and I’m left standing when everyone is kneeling, kneeling when they are standing and have no idea what to do with my hands?

It was with these worries I sat in the audience of the Koerner Hall, the single fanciest place I have ever been. Looking up at the beautiful ceilings and the lush wood, I nervously straightened my best outfit (neither stained nor wrinkled) and prepared myself to stand or kneel at a moment’s notice (I told you, I’m not that experienced with the classical music thing). Suddenly the choir began to file onto the stage, and then they kept filing onto the stage. Rows upon rows of men in tuxes and women in a sort of “nun on her day off” floor-length black and white number.

I had no idea that choir was going to be so huge. I have enough trouble getting four friends to decide on a restaurant. How was this huge group of people going to create music? What was this going to even sound like? Was this going to be, well, boring?

The answer, thrillingly, was no. Despite the fact that I have been known to fast forward through the Star Wars opening credits because they aren’t moving fast enough (yes Lucas, we get it, it’s verrry dramatic), I found myself riveted. I had completely forgotten how beautiful, dynamic and fascinating classical music can be. And I had never seen it performed like this. I found myself surprisingly emotionally moved by such a large array of voices coming together to create this music. My weirdo comedian side couldn’t help being nervous that soloists would hit a wrong note.  How do classical music audiences heckle? Do they have to do it in High German? (And with that joke the worth of my University education is proven for all time.)

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry, which is good because I know only enough German to order a beer, which seems out of place at such a fancy venue.  Instead, I was treated to both sweeping solos, dramatic solos, bouncy and light solos, a whole gamut of styles.  I found my head full of images to go with the beautiful music, and hearing this music performed with such joy thrilled me.  I was also thrilled to hear the solo piano pieces.  Watching the hands of a master pianist dance across the keys as the beautiful notes rise in the air was such a beautiful experience.

In fact, the entire evening reminded me of the incredible power of live music.  Even the slower pieces were performed with such passion that even though they were about the loss of love etc I couldn’t help but be a bit giddy with excitement. I had never heard love songs performed like this before.  And to me, that’s what they were.  When I read the translations of the lyrics that were helpfully provided in the program I was surprised how contemporary the themes of the songs were.

Love and loss are eternal.  As is, apparently, the desire to really tear it up when you’re young and then look back in almost dismay at how stupidly you acted.  This is not what I thought classical music was.  I have always, much to my embarrassment, thought it was out of touch and boring.  Something as far removed as possible to my oh-so-modern ideas and tastes.  But instead, here were ideas that my friends and past partners talk, write and sing about, just presented in a different way.

Instead of a naive but insistent man playing you a heartfelt song on acoustic guitar, there was a good chance that a piece would be written for one-hundred-and-change singers to perform. Definitely more powerful and beautiful! It is no wonder this music has lived in the hearts and minds of audiences for so long.

That being said, I’m glad that no one who has ever had a crush on me has written music like this. How would I even fit 125 people in a basement apartment?

Erin Rodgers is a Writer, Performer and Event Creator. She loves puppets, cartoons and jokes, yet has somehow convinced people she is an adult.

Erin is also producing the 2016 Toronto Storytelling Festival, taking place April 1-10, 2016.


Reviewer Erin Rodgers, a red-headed woman with plush sea-turtle on her head