By John Masko, staff columnist
Yale Daily News
I’ll admit that I was a bit greedy for music as a freshman. It was a great perk of going to a first-rate university to be able to see the greatest musicians in the world for free. I could take a study break and walk two blocks from Old Campus to Sprague or Woolsey halls. And if I was just 10 minutes early, I could sit in the front row and see the hunched but boundlessly energetic Masaaki Suzuki (one of the world’s greatest baroque performers) conduct the Yale Schola Cantorum (one of its finest chamber choirs) in some of the best music ever written.
It took a little while before it began to strike me as odd how many seats always seemed to go empty during these fabulous events. There was the occasional graduate student or elderly retired-looking professor. But my amazing front-row seat meant that many of my classmates were neither aware of nor experiencing the privilege I experienced just by walking two blocks.
Many of us attend our friends’ concerts for a cappella groups, the Yale Symphony or Glee Club once in a blue moon. Yale does have, without a doubt, one of the world’s most vibrant undergrad music cultures — where else could a student-led group put together a baroque opera, never before performed in America, complete with orchestra and ballet, like the Opera Theatre of Yale College did last year? Our undergraduate music community deserves more of our attention, and we also have the Yale School of Music a block away. It is chief heir to one of Yale’s richest art traditions — a school that has provided musical accompaniment to a tumultuously changing Yale culture since its founding in 1894.
But how many non-music nerd undergrads have been to see the Yale Philharmonia? Or a graduate student guitar recital? The Yale Camerata? The world-class guest organists that the Institute of Sacred Music (the Yale program with the highest per capita endowment) brings to play on campus? I’m not sure I know any who have. And yet these opportunities are readily available to all of us and almost all are free.
This coming weekend, the Yale School of Music will start its musical programs for the year. I write particularly to Yale freshmen and underclassmen to take advantage of the incredible artistic resources Yale’s commitment to graduate and professional music gives us. Go hear a piano recital, a song cycle or a choral concert. Go hear a concert given by someone you’ve never met, and may never meet. Go because after Yale, as far as affordable access to world-class music is concerned, we’ll never have it so good again.
I do not intend to persuade you to go as overboard as I did my freshman year (there were more than 50 concert programs in a pile on my dresser at the end of the year). But don’t consign attending a graduate or professional musical event at Yale to your senior year bucket list, along with such delights as breaking into the Saybrook roof, eating a Louie’s Lunch burger or attending a naked party.
I write this as a music major who has spent way too much of my time at Yale memorizing factoids about hexatonicism or Teodor Adorno’s interpretation of Mahler symphonies. But I also write as someone who has been profoundly affected by many musical performances here at Yale, and rarely on an intellectual level. I know from friends who’ve had the same experience that the great art shared here at Yale is not something you need to be a music specialist to appreciate.
While I can’t guarantee that your life will be deeply affected by the first concert you go to, sooner or later, if you choose your musical events well, it will. You will have the experience of feeling like what you just heard was written, centuries ago, with you in mind — your problems, your anxieties, your loves and longings. At the end of the concert, particularly one that ends with a whimper or hushed affirmation rather than a bang, there will be a closing moment that seems to last an eternity. This happens particularly in Woolsey Hall, for example when the sonorous “n” at the end of the Glee Club’s performance of Frank Martin’s “Kyrie Eleison” from his Mass echoes back and forth between the walls of the hall before gracefully fading to silence. And in that suspended moment (which unfortunately happened two years ago, so you’re too late!) you’ll be converted.