Classically Gassed

Just a Note on Music Appreciation

By Maria Johnson

Once in a while, like most columnists, I like to dip into the ole email bag.

So this month, I’ll address a totally legit, 100 percent genuine plea from a reader.

“Dear Maria: I hope you can help with my totally legit, 100 percent genuine plea. As you know, because you are such a worldly person, we are on the threshold of the social season, which means I’ll be getting invitations to symphony concerts. Here’s the problem: Unless I’ve heard a piece of classical music in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, I am at a loss. I feel extremely guilty about this. Not really. But I’d appreciate your advice on how I can get more out of classical music. Yours truly, Khilda Wabbit.”

Thanks for writing, Khilda.

First of all, please know that you are not alone. In fact, you’re never going to believe this, but I have the exact same problem, which is exacerbated by the fact that my husband luvvvvvvvvs classical music, which often leads to the following, exchange in our home.

Him: Hey, there’s a great concert coming up with music by (insert the name a of long-dead, white dude with Farrah Fawcett hair). Want to go?

Me: (Insert scream of anguish)

Him: We could go to dinner at (insert the name of a restaurant I really like.)

Me: OK.

It wasn’t always this way.

In fact, our relationship with classical music started off smoothly. I think it was our second date when he asked if I wanted to go to a symphony concert.

At the time, I was more of a Prince fan, but I was like, “OK, sure,” because, you know, I’m not a total rube.

Heck, back in the olden days when I was a kid, my mom listened to classical music on public radio before public radio was a big thing.

We had a big vinyl record of Peter and the Wolf, so I was familiar with the fact that flutes were members of the bird section and that wolves played French horns.

My best friend’s mom was the music teacher at our elementary school, and she dragged, I mean treated, us to young people’s concerts by the local symphony orchestra.

Furthermore, I excelled at the mandatory trilling of spit-filled plastic recorders in the fourth grade, and my brother and I spent scores of Saturday mornings mesmerized by Warner Bros. cartoons, which were peppered with classical selections thanks to the genius and thrift of Carl Stalling, who knew that most classical music was in the public domain, i.e. free of licensing fees.

All of which is to say, I was very well prepared for this second date.

So the concert starts, and we’re soaking up some pretty music by — I dunno, someone — and Jeff’s getting into it, and I’m liking it, too, because I recognize the music. And I think, Now would be a good time to impress him, so I lean over and say: “This is from Bugs Bunny.”

And he nods and smiles. So I hit him with some deeper knowledge: “It’s from the scene where the sheep dog and the wolf are clocking into work with their lunch pails.”

And he nods. So I continue.

“And they say, “Mornin’, Ralph,’ “Mornin’, Sam,’ ”

And Jeff nods and goes, “Peer Gynt.”

And I’m thinking, “Wow, he even remembers who their friends were.”

If you’d asked me at the time, I’d have given classical music two thumbs up.

Then came our second concert. That’s when it hit me: Not every classical concert contains selections from Bugs Bunny.

Here’s what that concert sounded like to me:




Plus, I committed the cardinal sin, which is to say that I clapped between movements. You’d have thought I refused to pass the Grey Poupon.

Also, I might have whistled in there somewhere. It’s all a blur.

The upshot is this, Khilda: When you’re at a symphony concert, don’t clap until everyone else does. And just to be safe, don’t whistle.

Or draw in the margins of your program.

Or think that no one will notice if you hold your phone beside your leg and play Words with Friends.

Or calculate how many new episodes of Arrested Development you could be watching on Netflix in these two hours.

Noooo, Khilda, just calm yourself and focus on the music. Perhaps you, too, will come to understand that classical music enriches our lives. It’s all around us, especially in fancy grocery stores, where it is a sign that you are about to pay way too much for tomatoes. Also, it can be found in many movies and TV commercials.

You might know my favorite Richard Strauss piece, the one called Thus Spach Zarathustra, which he did for an Oreo Thins commercial a few years ago. Oh wait. I’m wrong. He wrote it a long time before that — for that scene in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, when the monkey figures out he can use an animal bone to bust up other animal bones.

Sorry about that.

It’s important to be accurate.

That’s why I’ll give you the full name of another beautiful piece — Fantasie Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 66. — that Frederick Chopin wrote to accompany an awesome slow-motion skateboard jump in a recent Mountain Dew commercial.

Also, I am blown away by the ditty George Gershwin wrote for that United Airlines commercial. Rhapsody in Blue, I think he called it. Get it? Blue sky?

The point, Khilda, is that it takes effort to learn. On both sides. Orchestras are trying, too. Their audiences are shrinking (literally, because the average age of a concertgoer is approximately 204), so they’re trying to appeal to younger folks by stirring in multimedia accents (PIKSHURS! YAY!)

Finally, I’ll leave you with this hopeful note: If a concert ends early enough, there’s still time to catch dessert and coffee.   OH

Maria Johnson can be reached at

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