I’ve been listening to Mozart for a month and I can safely say there’s been no increase in my IQ. I proved what scientists have known for years—there’s no real ‘Mozart Effect.’ Listening to music-any music-that transports you to a relaxed and peaceful state of mind will prepare the brain for mental challenge. Although, I would argue, hearing Ave Verum Corpus elevates even the most stoic listener to a higher emotional plane.
During the second class of Mozart 101, Dr. James Sorrell attempted to clarify what constitutes genius. One of the most fascinating aspects of Mozart’s genius was his ability to span various forms of music. From the bawdy Leck Mir den Arsch to the transcendent Ave Verum Corpus, he treats each composition with equal care and reverence. He wrote operas that appealed to kings and statesman as well as butchers and bakers.
My friend Tara would argue that whatever soothes a child to sleep is the result of pure genius. Even an infant is sensitive to the peaceful strains of String Quartet No. 14 in G Major versus the enthusiastic bowing of an adolescent cellist. Human beings are sensitive to music. I write fiction and I have a musical library to match the emotional mood I’m attempting to convey in the story. Weepy self-introspection calls for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 14 in C sharp Minor. When I need energy, only Mozart will suffice.
Dr. Sorrell points out that Mozart defied the common myths of genius: fading talent, the trap of unattainable standards, the shaky pedestal of a Boy Wonder and the insidious poison that is boredom. Mozart highlighted common themes in his operas that still resonate today: love, loss, anger, forgiveness, jealousy and abandonment. Mozart remained a prolific composer until his death.
I’m not a genius and I’m honest about my complete lack of musical knowledge. But over the few last months of immersing myself in classical music, I’ve become adept at identifying the composer. I still can’t name the symphonies, but I’ve learned the musical personalities of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. And, hey, if I can learn—anybody can. Perhaps there is a Mozart Effect.
In truth, I had orchestrated my own disaster. The memory of my eighth-grade field trip kept running through my head. A grumpy conductor had stopped the program in order to lecture our group on the proper etiquette of applause. I decided then and there never to pay good money to be chastised for spontaneous clapping. Twenty years later, I arrived late and frazzled to the small community theater hosting Mozart 101, sparing only a passing frown at the gentleman who had just beaten me to a prime parking space and added three minutes to my tardiness.
The program began with a few words from Opera Omaha General Director John Wehrle introducing a collaborative program between Omaha Conservatory of Music [http://www.omahacm.org] and Opera Omaha. To further this endeavor, two adolescents took the stage against a jumble of props from a recent play. A mannequin dressed in watch-cap and pea-coat watched benevolently as they prepared.
Jennifer and Jehong Ahn communicated with the nods, gestures and eye rolls exclusive to siblings before tucking their instruments under almost identical chins. And then they played. Like a cathartic release, the notes seemed to untangle the complexity of human emotion into pure, harmonic sound. Equally inspiring, Hannah Pinnt Music performed Mozart’s Concerto in D Major with accompanist Dr. Karen Sigers.
I carefully waited until everyone else in the theater began clapping before I joined in the applause.
Then poet Matt Mason[http://midverse.com/Masonpoems.html] entertained the audience with an historical perspective of 18th century poetry. Full of love and loss, tragedy and jealousy, poetry contains many of the same themes today as it did 200 years ago. Inspired by a play, Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote the libretto for The Marriage of Figaro, carefully removing any overt political humor that would alienate Emperor Joseph II, while exploiting current views of the day to entertain his audience.
Garnett Bruce ended the program with music from The Marriage of Figaro, reminding us that the human voice is one of the most beautiful instruments of all. For me, art should always inspire emotion. I wish that I had not been so intimidated all these years. I try to remember this: a true artist is passionate about their work, and a true intellect can converse at any level. Artists who love what they do want to share with you—not exclude you.
After all, art is not about what you wear to the theater, or whether or not the usher is rude to you, or feeling intimidated by a conductor. Opera is about the performance—people who have spent years refining their talent in order to share their passion with an audience. Mozart had a singular talent for creating music that was accessible to everyone. And the more you know, the less likely you are to be intimidated. I hope you’ll join me on December 7th for the next installment of Mozart 101. Performances by the likes of Jennifer, Jehong and Hannah should not be missed!
Everything I know about Mozart I learned from the movie, Amadeus. If memory serves, the Viennese made some rather naughty-looking chocolates named after a part of the female anatomy, and Mozart had a silly laugh. In my defense, when the movie premiered twenty-five years ago, I was busy putting the perfect slouch on my leg warmers and teasing my hair to heights that would have made a Georgian-era wigmaker proud.
In an effort to overcome my meager knowledge of classical music, I bought an album entitled, “ Mozart for Your Mind”. With iPod in hand and an earnest desire to boost my brainpower, I sat down to listen. Keep in mind, I can’t read music, I’m tone deaf, and my singing voice can only be described as horrific.
Imagine my surprise when the composition reverberating through my ear buds resonated on a perfect emotional pitch! I sent Amadeus right to the top of my Netflix Queue. I mean, can you imagine the killer soundtrack? Then I started looking for ways to improve on my new-found appreciation of all things Mozart.
On Monday, November 9th, I’ll be joining Opera Omaha in a four-part lecture and performance series to learn more about the life and work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Please accompany me on the journey as we answer these burning questions: Can a person who once confused the word ‘opera’ with ‘Oprah’ be taught to appreciate classical music? And…In 150 years, will ‘rum balls’ be considered ‘naughty’?
PS: If there’s a good turnout, I might even be persuaded to reveal a picture of my 1980’s hairdo.
Sherri Shackelford | Mozart 101 student
Brundibár was a glimmer of an idea a number of years ago for the Institute for Holocaust Education. We wanted to optimize the number of students who would see the production and found a wonderful partner in Opera Omaha to accomplish our goal. After the first 4,000 students or so came through, we all looked at each other in a daze realizing the impact this story was to have on so many people. A few of the best comments I have received are the people who approached and asked if our cast was a professional touring company – and I proudly answered, “No! Except for our wonderful ‘Brundibar’ the cast were all Omaha and Lincoln students.” I also attended a community event this week with Ela where I heard a great buzz among the crowd about her and the upcoming public show on Saturday night! We hope to see you there!
Grace Bydalek and Aubrey Fleming are about halfway through the eleven performances of the children’s opera Brundibár. They share the lead role of Aninku, a young girl trying to care for a sick mother along with her brother Pepíček. Double cast due to the number of performances, when not Aninku, Grace’s has the alternate role of the Dog, while Aubrey plays the Sparrow. The Dog, Sparrow and a Cat help Aninku and Pepíček defeat the town bully, Brundibár.
If their names sound familiar, it’s because they both are veterans of numerous productions on the Opera Omaha, The Rose, and Omaha Community Playhouse circuit in addition to both have done voice work for the “Strawberry Shortcake” DVD series. During Opera Omaha’s 50th Anniversary season, they worked together in another children’s opera, All The King’s Men.
Grace and Aubrey have often auditions for the same roles, but experiences like Brundibár have allowed the two to form a true friendship. Don’t miss out on seeing these two amazing young artists in action at 6:30 pm on Saturday, November 7 at The Rose Theater.
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