Songs for Beginners

Most of us at Amherst consider ourselves to be at least a little versed in modern “high culture”–even if we don’t understand EXACTLY how Damien Hirst’s giant shark suspended in formaldehyde is supposed to represent “the physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living”, we respect that the curator of the MET does, and attach some value to both the work of art and our cultivated awareness of it. Us Amherstians have a wider canon of knowledge when it comes to art, antiquity, and allusions (though I am sorry to say that I am 21 years old and STILL have not read the bible, and I don’t think I will ever have the literary background to read Finnegan’s Wake with confidence or comprehension). However, I find that many students with whom I associate have very little knowledge of the symphonic world–western or otherwise.

Sharks bring to MY mind deaths that are not only physicall very possible, but probably immediate and painful as well
James Joyce, what a cad.

My own appreciation of symphonic music grew forcibly in my soul during my 7-year tenure as an oboist. At the time I picked up the horrible, squawking instrument I had little concern for it’s role in my future. I chose it because they told me it was the hardest woodwind instrument one could endeavor, and I was just that type of child. To my adolescent dismay, the oboe was a difficult, lonely, obsessive, and quite expensive hobby, and as I grew into a semi-talented player I found that the challenges only increased with time. While in high school I struggled with my technical skill and musicality so much that I never “stopped to smell the flowers” of music’s life-enriching potential, if you will, and it was not until writing my admissions essay for Amherst that I discovered how music was the only subject about which I could write with clarity and grace. Music was something that my heart had ingested like a child does candy on Halloween night–mindlessly but steadily I shoved music into my essence until suddenly it was sugar-crazed and slightly nauseated with glee. I thank my acceptance to Amherst on a 2-page essay about Karel Husa’s Music for Prague 1968 (which, if analyzed fuller in the context of my current sensitivities, is a huge CAUTION sign for my future relationship with Russian studies).

I played oboe for about a year and a half at Amherst when I decided it was time for me to be finished with the beast forever. Like a puppy, the oboe requires a lot of love, multiple walks, and extensive grooming daily (though it will undoubtedly bite the hand that feeds), and I simply did not have the time to upkeep the hobby with a full heart (or without fear, I suppose). While I miss being able to express myself in music, my regard for the symphonic art is ever-growing, and I wish to share some of what I have learned with you all. It can be intimidating at first to introduce yourself to a new art form, so I offer you a short list of my top 5 favorite pieces (in no particular order). I am not suggesting that these are the “best” orchestral/wind ensemble pieces of all time, only that somewhere along the line they became the songs that I can blast at full volume and listen to in the dark with complete and total satisfaction.

1. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, (Leopold Stokowski / Philadelphia Orchestra; November 12, 1934).
1. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship
2. The Story of the Kalander Prince
3. The Young Prince and the Young Princess
4. The Festival at Bagdad

2. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto in C: Moderato

3. Holst’s Planets: Jupiter

4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity by Berliner Philharmoniker

4. Beethoven’s Symphony 7

Apologies for the incongruity of the links–feel free to branch out to find other recordings and completed works!