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From Beethoven to Bugs Bunny: A Common Man’s Take on Classical Music

Peter Barthelmes - Friday, April 21, 2017


You might only know it from Warner Brothers cartoons. You might associate it with old men in libraries. But, if you can give Classical music a chance, you may find out why it has been inspiring and enlightening the minds of geniuses for centuries. Everyone has free access to music these days, so before you tune out — take a few minutes to take a few hints, and explore a musical style that deserves a second, or third, or fourth listen. We’ve got some Classical music suggestions for all occasions.

While scheduling for my junior year in college, I happened upon and elective that ultimately had a profound effect on my life. The class was titled Introduction to Music. Having considered myself to be well rounded in most of the aspects of popular music, I figured that I was a shoe-in for an easy A in order to boost my GPA. “Just wait until the chapter on Dylan” I thought to myself. I went so far as to imagine myself schooling the professor on a thing or two.


The first day of class was bustling with the idle chit chat of students who were busy catching each other up on the events of their summer. When the professor entered the room, he asked the class to close their eyes collectively and to listen. He queued up Ravel’s “Bolero.” As the calming tones of the piece overcame the class, they were met by the inquisitive giggles of the co-eds. It seemed as though the class began to wonder “how far back is this guy going to go?” By the end of the piece, almost 16 minutes later, everyone had opened their eyes including myself. Many had gone back to their conversations only adjusting their volume to whispered tones. The lanky, balding professor announced that the class would concentrate solely upon all categories of what is referred to as Classical music. This announcement was met with several painful groans and kids feverishly flipping through the pages of their Fall scheduling guide. A group of particularly boisterous girls from the back of the room asked how the class’ title could not be inclusive of all music.


They clearly wondered why their favorite forms of music would not be touched upon during our studies. It was apparent by the teacher’s response that he had fielded this argument before. He calmly stated that if the music of Jay Z would be as relevant as Classical music is considered to be in modern times in 500 or 600 years, that he hoped a professor would include it in the syllabus. He quickly announced the week’s homework reading and dismissed himself. Our departure to the parking lot was accompanied by further moaning and complaining.


This class offered a matter of fact approach to the distinctive categories of Classical music along with required listening. I decided to approach the course load with the same strategies that I had employed during history classes. This strategy served me well. I regurgitated who wrote what, when and sometimes why during the written exams and I attended the required performances of the symphony and chamber orchestra locally. My children who ranged in age from 7 to 13 seemed to welcome a chance to dress up and people-watch for a couple of hours. They were under strict orders to refrain from clapping until they saw me clap as I was taking my cues from the regular attendees. My 7-year-old daughter considered it to be a shame that we were forbidden to recognize the talent that exuded from each song. She is now amazingly talented at several instruments and considers her public performances of Johnny Cash and Rock-n-Roll to be less than up to par in the absence of recognition after each song. Looking back, I am quite sure that my attendance at these performances was very much enhanced by my kids’ presence. We enjoyed the sights and sounds on our own terms. My lack of knowledge of this scene was matched only by that of my children. If it hadn’t been for their naiveté, I would never have decided that something emotionally powerful could be evoked and enjoyed by the common man. When we returned home, we wouldn’t be sipping our Swiss Miss with our pinkies sticking out, but it explained a hell of a lot about our Looney Tune favorites.

Since those days, I have made a few classical staples an appropriate soundtrack to loads of possible scenarios that have popped into my life. And, I thought I’d share some of my favs. I hope that the readers take away what they like from these suggested pieces. Leave the others behind. Because if it is not moving to you — it won’t prompt you to move. It is no skin off my nose. You will probably recognize most of these pieces.


When it comes to long drives, I put Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” on, especially if you plan to cut out around sunrise. It builds to a thumping crescendo that ends up zinging you over the highway like a rock out of a slingshot.

Background music for cleaning usually involves (for me) Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony.” This is a great companion to everything from detailing your vehicle to giving the house a once over. The shoals of intricate overlays can seem to be made for getting the gunk that finds its way to the edge of the windshield or the baseboards.

When catching up with olds friends, I find it nice to handwrite letters in this day of hastily sent emails and texts. For this activity, I suggest the old standard “Fur Elise.” Once again, by the old master Beethoven. It is familiar like an old friend and flowing like a handwritten letter ought to be.


If sitting back to mull over something that needs to be carefully considered before it is acted upon, my choice is Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 21, K467” it is a very logically composed piece that seems to lend itself to all options musically and otherwise. It slows and speeds up much like the human mind and it always manages to land squarely on its feet. Fire up a fine cigar, kick back and let the music fill the air on a warm summer night.


For those more somber moments such as driving in a funeral procession alone, or in the company of your family — give a listen to Martin Jocoby’s rendering of Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Opus No.13 ‘Sonata Pathétique’/Adagio Cantabile.” It offers a chance to revisit old memories and brings with it an easing sense of closure. It’s a no-brainer that Charles Shultz’s Schroeder thought so highly of this guy.

When prepping for a job interview or for an important meeting, I find GF Handel’s “Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks” to be a good companion. It is important to note that this piece takes up about an hour in time, so it is essential to begin listening early, and to allow time to listen to it in its entirety.


Classical music can make for a great backdrop to anyone’s life. My now grown children would find it to be a great oversight if we listened to anything but the Beastie Boys’ “Brass Monkey” while driving through a car wash. Remember, it is all about what moves you.


Get another perspective.

Check out this Ted Talk “Communicating the Emotion of Classical Music.” by Daniel Heilfetz


About The Author

Peter Barthelmes is an author and musician who resides in Wattsburg, PA. Peter is a guest blogger for The Relevant Man contributing his unique perspectives on music.

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