A musician friend told me once that most people’s favorite music is whatever they were listening to when they were 18 years old. At the time, I doubted this, but given the popularity of reunion tours from bands long-since history, or the phenomenon of the tribute band (Holland’s own Park Theater has at least one tribute band a week on their schedule!) — it’s clear my friend was onto something. The songs and genres we know best are like comfort food — the meatloaf Mom always makes, that restaurant we must eat at when we’re visiting a place we used to live, that food that we know is awful for us, but just brings us back …
There’s nothing wrong with comfort food, or comfort music, though some people find that comfortable spot and never leave it, and that can have consequences. A physician told an older relative of mine that he “needs to start eating like an adult,” by which he meant more vegetables and healthy foods, less junk. Or what about the person who “knows what he/she likes,” and refuses to try anything new? Understandable if you’re 8, but not such an attractive look at 48.
I grew up listening to classical music as a child (raised by classical musicians), and once I got to middle school, found Top 40 radio station hits. By high school, I was searching the dial for more interesting fare, and classic rock stations had a whole new set of sounds. Once I started college as a freshman music major, I had to listen to all kinds of new sonorities for my music classes. George Crumb, Laurie Anderson, Steve Reich, Tuvan Throat Singing — as I was listening, I was learning.
When I arrived at Indiana University for my master’s in music, the options for hearing live music exploded. In addition to a world-class jazz program, visiting artists from all genres, amazing symphonies and chamber music, Bloomington, Indiana hosted a world music festival every summer, when artists played music from many genres and countries. Each time I heard a new sound, discovered a new instrument, my mind and my ears expanded. And it’s a bit like traveling — pulled out of your comfort zone, you discover there’s some pretty amazing stuff out there that you didn’t even know existed!
One summer a few years ago, we wandered down to Kollen Park for the Holland Symphony’s summer pops concert, featuring mariachi music. I didn’t know much about mariachi music before moving to West Michigan, but what a colorful and fascinating genre (with classy outfits to boot!) I’ve enjoyed the chances to learn more about this rich genre, surrounded by such a vibrant Latino community. One year at the Calvin Worship Symposium, I even attended a Mariachi Vespers service, where we sung hymns accompanied by guitars, trumpets, percussion, and a Guitarron!
That August in Kollen Park, we were astounded to find the park filled, with more varieties of folks than we usually saw at the Symphony. The concert, a unique collaboration designed to connect the Holland Symphony and their players with music of another culture and reach out to the community, turned into a new project. The Symphony has been connecting with other ethnic groups of Holland, finding musicians and groups with whom they can perform next season, arranging their music so everyone can play together.
It’s no secret in the classical music world that our audiences are getting older, funding is getting scarcer, attention is waning, and the struggle for survival of arts organizations is real. Some of us, stepped in this tradition, could say — but we love Mozart, and what’s wrong with Beethoven? This music is a rich treasure, but it can become the comfort food of our world. What about the thrill of finding new music, reaching new peoples? I’m excited that the Holland Symphony is exploring in this way, and hope Holland and the classical world will support this adventure. Maybe you’ll want to wander down to Kollen Park come August to discover something new.
I still love to throw on those U2 CDs (or cassette tapes …) I bought at age 16, when I need a dose of comfort food, but I love even more discovering new music, composers, and styles. Here’s my challenge to you — try something new this week. Inch out of your comfort zone. Online listening makes it easy, but live music is ALWAYS more fun. There’s a whole world of sounds out there waiting for you!
— Rhonda Edgington is a professional musician who likes to write about music.
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Rhonda Edgerton: Music can be comfort and adventure
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