Bite-sized Arts and Culture: “Where to Start”

Eleanor O’Hagan

In the last segment of this column we learned that the fine and performing arts are not reserved for the rich and snobby. So, how does one begin to dive into the realm of this world of art and culture? Personally I think the best place to start is just plain old classical music. All instrumental, no vocals.  

I say this not because it’s an easy place to start, its because once you learn how to listen to and immerse yourself into a piece of music with no words, interpreting other art forms comes much easier.  

Listening to a piece of music with no words may seem boring to some, but it’s a perfect opportunity to let your imagination take over.  

So here is an exercise for you. Go to whatever platform you use for listening to music, look up Pietro Mascagni. Go find his opera “Cavalleria Rusticana” and skip over it to the piece entitled “Intermezzo”. 

This piece is purely instrumental and in the middle of a short one act opera written by Mascagni, taking place in a small town in Italy over the course of Easter Sunday. Now you can choose to go listen to the piece now and try to figure out the context of it, or I can explain it now. 

You want to know what this piece is displaying? It is the conflict and guilt of a young woman who committed adultery and has been unable to go to confession in time to join the rest of the village for Easter Sunday mass.  

Can you now feel the pain of this in the strings as they swell? But it doesn’t end in lament does it? There is a back and forth of quiet melody in the strings, to intense repetition of a few notes, like a battle between the woman’s guilt and God’s mercy.  

And so ends the piece. With a quiet resolution of sorrowing comfort. This is the importance of music. It tells a story. This is why I say start with music. It will make you more aware of your own hidden life and you can begin to understand what parts of music draw you in more. 

Which instruments speak best in your head, in which way. What does a violin convey that a trumpet can not? When is it more appropriate for a flute to stand out? What’s the story, the motive, the purpose of a musical piece? Music inspires other works of art, it inspires reflection it gives release or means of understanding and expression that can not always be explained. 

The rest of the opera is full of typical betrayal, vengeful husbands and death but its so good!  

Fun fact! This was the first opera I performed in at the tender age of 14 and I had the awesome roll of village girl number 3. Meaning I got to sing opera, chase a whip and eat cookies while eavesdropping on the town drama. 

Join us next time as we leap dramatically into the world of opera and how to prepare oneself for the chaos and glorious overdramatic, complex, unrealistic stories and the most epic music ever! 

Until then try just sitting and listening to this list of suggested pieces of classical instrumental music! Happy listening! 

Suggest pieces: “Intermezzo” from Cavalleria Rusticana, Beethovens’ third and seventh symphonies and Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”