The world will always remain busy: new technology seems to be developing at an unbelievable rate, politics – not just in our country, but in many places around the world – gets more divisive by the minute. From what I can see with the COVID-19 pandemic and the prospect of studying and graduation on top of all of this, the stress can be overwhelming. Many people find ways to turn their eyes and ears away from the noise that this world makes. They seek comfort; relaxation; a way to alleviate anxiety; a place telling them that the world will be okay in optimistic tones. What they need is classical music.
The seemingly unmovable stereotype is that the classical genre is exclusively for the elite and elderly. But recently, though, this stereotype does seem to be budging. A 2019 report found that 35% of adults listened to classical music and “it was the fourth most popular music genre”, garnering more fans than R&B or hip-hop.
A third of the audience are under 35 years old and the reason for them listening is to break away from their playlist of popular music. Roshni, 24, who works in pharmaceuticals, listens to the piano works of Claude Debussy in order to “escape”. It is the first word that resonates with her to describe this form of music. “It is a distraction,” she says, “similar to reading a book”.
Sitting in a darkened concert hall, from my experience, enhances this feeling of escape from the world. I prefer concerts that have no windows and have a lone spotlight on a single or group of musicians. While listening and gazing in awe of their virtuosity, I begin to reminisce about my own life, at the same time exploring the deep, colourful musical world with the musician present.
There are various other benefits, too. A research team at Oxford University in 2004 found that listening to 25 minutes of Mozart or Strauss can “significantly lower your blood pressure”, when compared with people who did not hear any music at all. In order for the pressure to fall, the music as suggested by the researchers should have no lyrics, subtle changes in volume and rhythm, but certain parts of the music repeated in intervals.
Classical music reduces stress levels too. If and when you have a bad day at the office – even if that’s the home office – putting on some Rachmaninoff or Ravel may help lower the cortisol levels in the body.
In another study, pregnant women reported that “listening to classical music every week relieved their stress and anxiety”. This find also extended to hospital patients, too, in helping them reduce anxiety pre- and post-surgery.
Caroline, 23, says that classical music is not only beautiful but calming. She explains that the purity is what attracts her to it, compared with modern day’s tendency to over-sexualise some other genres.
Moreover, listening to your favourite piece of classical music in bed 45 minutes before you sleep, can help improve the quality of your slumber. Studies have shown that the speed of the piece matters, suggesting that the ideal tempo for a good quality kip is around 60 beats per minute. So, maybe next time you’re snuggled under your duvet, opt for some Schubert instead of radiating your eyes with your mobile’s harmful blue light.
These are all biological and physiological reasons to listen to classical music. But, as a classically trained pianist, I have often found another benefit: often times classical music can help me express the inexpressible. It is a pathway to my deepest thoughts when words fail. This music can be so deep, layered and textured. All the instruments are a different voice from one another. Fortunately, classical music’s narrative isn’t one-size-fits-all, helped along by it sometimes being lyric-less. You can attach your own personal story to which you could relate, much like popular music. Sometimes showing to a friend my favourite classical piece – whether it is solo piano or orchestral – I am in subtle ways telling them feelings I have but haven’t the vocabulary to utter it.
We all know how stressful the pandemic is; with the uncertainty and the constant barrage of twists and turns in government policy. When this all ends, as I am sure it will, go to your nearest concert hall and immerse yourself in a classical concert. You will find emotions you haven’t felt in a long time, or perhaps if this is your first experience of the genre, new ones altogether.
It’s an effective past time; listening to it live soothes your own world inside, whilst also giving you ample time for reflection to figure out the one unravelling outside.
Words by Anthony Cheng
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