Author: Elizabeth Kimmelman-Schwartz, C’04
Today, I got an email from the Philadelphia Orchestra (nerd alert – I’m on their mailing list!) advertising a visiting orchestra coming to town and the fact that they’d be playing an all-Beethoven program, including my two favorite symphonies – Eroica and the 5th. I had a major, all-out nerd attack. In the span of two minutes, I called my husband, made sure that he was on board with the ticket purchase, ordered us two seats (after memorizing the seating layout in the Kimmel Center, including doing some Google image searches, to make sure the seats were acceptable), and exuberantly ran into another employee’s office telling her about my AMAZING purchase. Let’s just say that her reaction did not come close to matching my level of enthusiasm. I’m a classical music nut and I’m proud of it! I owe almost all of this love to the University of Pennsylvania’ s Department of Music.
As a freshman at Penn, I signed up for a first year seminar called “History of the Symphony.” I was intrigued by the title and thought it might be a good chance to learn something new. I sang in select choirs all through high school and was in the shows, plus I enjoyed musical things like Broadway. My dad is a classical music fan, and I’d always have to listen to classical music in his car when he’d drive me places. He give me the choice of riding with no music and actually…gasp…talking, or listening to classical music and, to me, the choice was clear. I’d pretend to hate it, but deep down, I thought it was beautiful. I liked how listening to classical music stirred my imagination, painted a mood for me, and let me be peaceful and reflective. I didn’t get to take any classes about classical music in high school, so when I got to Penn, it made sense to me to learn more about it. I loved my symphony class and before I graduated I took two more music classes, including a music history course and a course entirely on Beethoven.
I’ve talked in this blog before about how Penn is very pre-professional and how I was constantly worried that I didn’t know what I was going to do for the rest of my life. That’s true – except for the time I spent in music class. In music class, my fears about what would happen to me, my worries that what I was learning wasn’t applicable to the real world at all, faded away. I would watch my professor map out a symphony, feeling like I was learning a secret, beautiful code. I learned what motivated Beethoven to write such deeply meaningful pieces. I spent hours in the music library, learning how to identify parts of the symphony like the introduction, recapitulation, bridge and coda. Soon, I was mapping symphonies on my own. By the end of my classes, I could hear a few seconds of any Beethoven symphony, at any point, and correctly name it. It was amazing. I didn’t care how or when I used this knowledge, but for one of the only times in my life I was learning for the joy of learning. And I was happy.
I didn’t become a music major or even a minor. I never worked for a symphony or played for one. But what I gained from my three music classes was so valuable. I gained a love and knowledge of a true art form, which I will carry with me throughout my entire life. I learned the power of music to inspire true creativity and emotion. In learning this, I really think I became a better, more well-rounded person. When it comes down to it, I think that’s what a good college education should be about.