On Saturday evening, I slipped into classy attire and rode the train to Davies Symphony Hall, downtown. I entered the lobby early, and settled into a seat beside several sophomore peers. None of us had had the opportunity to research the performance in store for us, so we discussed our previous experiences attending the symphony. Eventually, Ronald Chase approached us. Ronald is the founder of San Francisco Art & Film for Teenagers, an organization that immerses interested teenagers in a world of art, film, and music for free! By providing free access to local cultural programs, students like myself learn to better engage with, discuss, dissect, and enjoy, art, film, and music. Saturday night was my first time taking advantage of Art & Film’s free symphony tickets.
Ronald joined us on our bench, quickly launching into an elaborate explanation of musical history relating to the following evening’s music. With our minds brimming with newfound knowledge, we clutched our tickets tightly and entered the grand symphony hall. Our tickets lead us to a collection of seats in the second row of the front orchestra. Ecstatically we sunk into yellow, cushioned chairs and endured the thirty minute lecture that came before the music. As the long rows behind us filled with elegant ladies and equally spiffy gentlemen, I admired the tall rounded ceiling and lavish nature of my surrounding environment. At long last, the conductor walked onstage, almost close enough for me to reach out and touch him. His wrinkled face revealed comfort that can only be attributed to someone that has been in a particular business for decades. A choir rose in the back and musicians took their seats, taking brief moments to tune their instruments. Then, they played and sang and my body felt full and complete as I absorbed the music with every fiber of my being. I leaned forward and allowed the sounds to run through me and take my mind from thought to image and back again. I sat so close to a violin player that I could hear the scratch of his bow on strings, which added an element of intensity and authenticity to the sound, much like a record player does. The distance I had always felt from most classical music was immediately eliminated, because I was both physically and mentally in the thick of it.
Between two hymns performed, I got to thinking that classical music and the romantic poetry we are studying in Creative Writing 1, are similar in many ways. First, one must approach both poetry and music with patience. In order to appreciate each word or note in a piece, as well as the piece as a whole, one must patiently interpret it and come to various conclusions on their own. Second, both compositions and poems are inspiring and inspired by the world around us. Romantics in the 1800s spent lifetimes writing poetry about nature and emotions. While composers often sought out urban environments to write music about. One example of this, was the final song played at the symphony called “An American in Paris,” a stunning classic that was inspired by a foreigner walking through Parisian streets.
With this knowledge, I listened to the symphony play it and could clearly visualize an American in Paris, listening to unfamiliar sounds and inhaling the culture. Which brings me to my third point, not only are poets and composers inspired by life, the works of art they create provide clear images in one’s mind, whether one has to read or listen, to see it. Fourth, both poetry and music convey emotions and make you feel emotions. All through the evening I heard sound combinations that swelled my heart and sounded so complicated and beautiful. During intermission, Ronald Chase informed us that all the history and information he had initially taught us, described different pieces that he mistakenly thought would be played that night. However the unpredictability of going into something unfamiliar forced me to run with my emotions as opposed to my mind. This strengthened my experience and made me come out of it with a newfound interest and wonder for classical music and symphonies.
I was especially fascinated by one of the main differentiating aspects of writing and music: teamwork. While poetry is personal and often written in privacy, symphonies would not thrive without countless unified musicians, working together to bring a piece to life. Their flawless ability to play in such harmony, was enough to draw me back to many more future performances. I highly encourage others to attend, and I look forward to venturing forth into more musically influenced endeavors. Thank you Art & Film!
Nina Berggren, class of 2020