Monday, July 20, 2015

On soft classical music. I'm currently working on a proof-reading job at the kitchen table. Behind me I have my computer set up to play music quietly in the background.

It's cycling randomly through my playlist 'Not Christmas', which as its name implies, it everything in my iTunes except my vast collection of Christmas music. (I have so much Christmas music that it ruins any shuffle through my entire collection.) This means that I get a lot of classical music, especially as I have a lot of collected works by particular composers.

Currently it's playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, as performed by Daniel Barenboim, who chooses to play it very delicately, so softly that I didn't recognise the famous melody at first over the hum of the heater.

Classical music has a very powerful effect on me when it's played softly in a quiet room. If I feel stressed, or panicky, or otherwise overwrought, it empties my head. It calms me.

It seems so long ago now that I used to see a psychologist. I stopped going because I could not longer afford it, and also because I felt as if I wasn't 'making any progress' but rather was just whingeing self-indulgently about my poor social skills and time management abilities. I sometimes wonder if my psychologist has ever come across any of my published work and attributed my 'success' to her ministrations. Probably she was just happy to accept my money and never thinks of me at all now she no longer has to listen to my petty problems.

Anyway, her rooms were in a converted terrace house in Carlton, and the waiting room was in what might otherwise have been a downstairs living area. It was a small room lined with chairs, and in the corner was a small radio that was always tuned to ABC Classic FM at a very low volume. It was deliberately intended to be soothing; but it had the desired effect on me. I found it incredibly soothing to sit in that room. I would often have that dry, wrung-out feeling that comes from having cried insanely for a long period.

I also like classical music radio because of that unnecessarily long pause that always happens at the end of a piece of music, followed by a loud inhalation as the announcer says in cultured tones, "…aaaand that was Daniel Barenboim, performing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata…" The announcers on classical radio stations always have very husheseem to sit too close to the mic, so that every pop and hiss of saliva and breath is captured and broadcast. But it would ruin the pleasure of it if they sat back properly.

The other time I like to listen to soft classical music is in my car or through headphones when I'm on public transport. It really cuts through the stress of having to get somewhere on time, or the annoyance of other cars and passengers. Somehow my iChoonz seems to intuit these moments and it often selects one of my favourite pieces of music for this purpose, Arabesque No. 1 by Debussy. I have two versions of this: an orchestral arrangement and a piano arrangement.

I think I like the orchestral one better because of the creamy woodwinds fluttering about above a bed of strings, with horns warm in the background like sunset glowing through clouds. Indeed, once I was driving west in the late afternoon and this piece of music came on the old iChoonz as I was gazing at the peachy-tinted sunset clouds, and I was almost overcome by the beauty of it in the middle of ordinary suburbia. Saying so feels so naff now that stupid plastic bag in American Beauty has ruined the notion of quotidian beauty.

Anyway, it's so soothing to do this methodical kind of work, which requires a certain quiet concentration, with classical music playing softly in the background. The only thing ruining my happy workday is Graham, who insists on doing irritating things like sitting on my computer, or sitting on my manuscript, or sitting on the table staring at a cake on a plate that he is not allowed to eat. I had to fight him for every bite of my lunch. Why can't he just sit quietly and listen to the music?

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