Normal People Listen: Bonnie listens to Mendelssohn

It’s time for another installment of Normal People Listen to Classical Music!  In which real humans who don’t usually listen to classical music share their thoughts after listening to a classical piece.

npltcmName: Bonnie

Age: 20

Hometown: McLean, VA

Interests: Short walks to the refrigerator, long walks on the beach, and spending time with friends in comedy clubs

Find Bonnie online! and

Piece: “Allegro assai” from String Quartet No. 6 in F minor by Felix Mendelssohn


I’d like to say I’m not a COMPLETE novice when it comes to music. I took a music appreciation and a music theory course when I was in high school. However, both classes ended up consisting of listening to Pachelbel’s Canon in D over and over and over to the point where my notebooks became filled with angry puns like “Taco Bells Canon” and “Pachelbel’s Canon needs to be a canOFF.” (Heads up, if you hate puns, leave now.) Needless to say, “music appreciation” didn’t really leave me appreciating music all that much, and as I continued on down the path of life, classical music left me feeling more lost than a Malaysian aircraft. (Is that joke still relevant?)

Then, this past summer a beautiful thing happened to me and I began an internship at The Kennedy Center where I was exposed to more art and music than I could have ever imagined. By the end of the summer I would even say that classical music was alleGROWing on me, so when my friend Carly asked if I would guest write a review for her blog I jumped at the chance, and then took 3 months to actually write the review because balancing 2 comedy groups, several theatrical productions, a career as a stand-up comedian, work, and school is hard…Who sleeps? Anyways, now that you know that classical music isn’t really my FORTE, but puns are, I feel like we can get into the actual review.

The video begins by showcasing the venue, Powerhouse Arena, which appears to be a bookstore and performance space all wrapped into one, or in other words: heaven on earth! I mean, books and art are two great things that go great together, its like milk & cookies, peanut butter & jelly, or cake & my face. The world needs more of these things.

Then, the video continues and we see the string quartet. I’m immediately sent into flashbacks from PachelHELL, and I remember one of my old notes that read “Obe! Violins never solved anything!” but I stuck it out, kept listening, and I wasn’t disappointed. The first notes of the song are super fitting for the arena, because they are a POWERHOUSE! I mean these guys just do not REST! If this song were to play as part of the soundtrack of someone’s life it would probably appear the moment after they accidentally touch someone’s butt while walking past them, and are forced to decide whether or not to acknowledge the situation by apologizing, because that is stressful stuff!

The song continues on to fluctuate between sections that feel calm and somber and other moments that feel angry and violent. In some ways it’s the musical equivalent of the mood swings I feel when someone tells me they’re voting for Trump. The song even ends on a both physically and metaphorically “plucky” moment similar to when I get up the courage to voice my opinions.

Final Thoughts: You leGATo listen to this. I also highly suggest watching the video, because the musician’s faces seem to express everything from “Oh no, we’re in TREBLE” to “Is the music drunk? Its SLURring everything,” and even “Does my instrument really smell like that?” I might even listen to it a few more times myself for good MEASURE.

Classical Music Round-Up: 9/25/15

Classical Conditioning presents this week’s worthwhile reads.

Labor Updates

The scene at Brooklyn’s wild Rite of Spring dance party, linked below. (source)

Making a Difference

High Tech

Something New

Just for Fun

Thoughts from the Front Row: A weekend of celebrity encounters

There’s a game my friend and I play, where we name the ten people in the world we would want to have dinner with.  Any ten people — celebrities, family members, politicians, war criminals.  The only rules are that they must be alive, and they must be real (sorry, Harry Potter).  Our lists change from month to month and year to year, and every once in a while we check in with each other: “Who’s sitting at your dinner table these days?”

Right now, my dinner table comprises (in no particular order): Jon Stewart, Albrecht Mayer, Elizabeth Warren (my love for her is undying), Tina Fey, John Green, Gottfried Schlaug, Yo Yo Ma, Chris Hadfield, Regina Spektor, and Bill Hader.

Bill Hader (source)

Beautiful, beautiful Bill Hader.

Bill Hader is the only person who has been on my dinner table roster since its conception.  For those who may not know, Bill Hader is an exceptionally talented alum of the sketch-comedy bastion Saturday Night Live.  He’s funny, but he’s also smart-funny: his timing, his writing, his mannerisms and versatility — his comedy is just so unbearably wonderful.  Bill Hader is one of my very favorite comedians, and two weeks ago, I got to meet him.

Well, not exactly.  But I got to sit in the front row of his Q&A show at my university, mere feet away from him, which was good enough for me.

I had never sat in the front row at a performance before… nor at anything, come to think of it.  The front row is to be avoided: it’s the least comfortable position in a movie theater, visually and acoustically undesirable for an orchestra concert, awkward on an airplane because you can’t fit your carry-on under the nonexistent seat in front of you.  But sitting in the front row at Bill Hader’s Q&A was thrilling.  Eye contact and snarky comments were directed at us, just because of our proximity.  There was no fourth wall: we may as well have been on stage with him.  It was intimate, and exciting, and hilarious, and I left the auditorium feeling like I knew Bill Hader, almost as a friend.

And just when I thought the weekend couldn’t get any better, I managed to score a last-minute ticket to the Emerson Quartet‘s sold-out performance at Eastman the next day, from a friend who could no longer attend.  The ticket was in the cheap, student-discount price bracket, and as a result was — you guessed it — in the front row. Continue reading

Suggested Listening: “Year of Our Lord” by Sufjan Stevens, arr. Michael Atkinson

I usually plan out these posts, like, three weeks ahead… but today’s SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTIC is a new addition to my library that totally took me by surprise!  Pretty cool.  Enjoy Michael Atkinson’s arrangement of “Year of Our Lord” by Sufjan Stevens, performed below by Osso string quartet (USA).

About the Composer & Arranger:

Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens (1975- ) grew up in Michigan and now resides in Brooklyn, NY, where he is the sole staff member of Asthmatic Kitty Records‘ Brooklyn office.  While studying at Hope College, he released his debut album (A Sun Cameon the Asthmatic Kitty label; the album set the stage for Stevens’ future music with its incorporation of folk and world elements and a broad variety of acoustic instrumentation — everything from banjo to oboe to sitar, mostly played by multi-instrumentalist Stevens himself — lending much of his music a distinct, symphonic sound.  Stevens has taken on many unique musical projects, including his “Fifty States Project,” for which two albums of folk-style songs dedicated to different U.S. states (Michigan and Illinoishave thus far been released; an electronic album about the Chinese zodiac (Enjoy Your Rabbit); and an award-winning tone-poem/film project about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (The BQEcommissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music (“the home for adventurous artists, audiences, and ideas”).  For these latter two projects, Stevens collaborated with…

Composer/arranger/performer/conductor/producer Michael Atkinson is an accomplished NYC-based French hornist, having played with such prestigious groups as the New York Philharmonic and Orpheus, and currently serving as Solo Horn with the innovative Knights orchestra (which I wrote about here).  A Juilliard alum, Atkinson can be heard on numerous film, commercial, and video game soundtracks, and has played in several award-winning Broadway pit orchestras.  Atkinson has had his arrangements performed across a broad range of genres, including at the famous Ravinia Festival and even on Genghis Barbie‘s debut album (I wrote about them here).  Atkinson’s collaboration with Sufjan Stevens stretches back several years and has resulted in many awards and much critical acclaim, especially regarding the Run Rabbit Run project from which today’s Suggested Listening was selected.  Continue reading

Suggested Listening: “Fantasie” by Bohuslav Martinů

This week’s SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTIC (a few days late — sorry about that) introduces us to a pretty obscure piece.  This is the Fantasie for theremin, string quartet, oboe, and piano, composed by Bohuslav Martinů and performed below by Carolina Eyck, theremin (Germany); the Keller Quartet (Hungary); Heinz Holliger, oboe (Switzerland); and Robert Kolinsky, piano (Switzerland).

About the Composer:

Born in Polička, Bohemia, Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) is one of the most celebrated Czech composers, right alongside Dvořak and Janáček.  He also happens to be my favorite composer (perhaps tied with Shostakovich).  As a result, this post will be a bit long — I love this guy and have a lot to say about him.

The life story of Bohuslav Martinů is super interesting.  His father was the town watchman, in charge of ringing the church bells to spread news, so the whole Martinů family lived in the bell tower — a fact which likely influenced Martinů’s music.  At a young age, little Bohus was noted to be awkward and aloof; though the diagnosis didn’t exist during his lifetime, scholars and friends of the composer have posthumously speculated that he had Asperger’s syndrome.  He was accepted as a violin student into the Prague Conservatory at age 16 but couldn’t adhere to the rigid schedule of the curriculum (possibly because of his alleged Asperger’s) and soon flunked out.  After that, he played and freelanced in several orchestras — including the illustrious Czech Philharmonic — all the while teaching himself composition.  After WWI, Martinů went to study composition in Paris, where his music absorbed French jazz influence.  He maintained his connections to his homeland, however — this got him blacklisted when the German armies rolled into France as WWII broke out.

Here is where the classical music geek will get really excited.  In 1941, Martinů fled to America and became inextricably woven into American orchestral history.  He taught at Tanglewood in 1942 alongside Copland (who spent that summer putting the finishing touches on his Rodeo ballet) and Koussevitzky (whose conducting students that summer included Bernstein and Fennell).  At Tanglewood, Martinů’s composition students included Alan Hovhaness and H. Owen Reed.  Many of Martinů’s works were premiered, commissioned, or championed by the great American orchestras, especially the Boston Symphony under Koussevitzky.  (See?  Summer festivals do help with networking!)  Martinů’s music combines folk, jazz, and neoclassical elements from his three “homes” — Czechoslovakia, France, the U.S. — and is breathtakingly strange and unquestionably beautiful.  Continue reading