Hector Berlioz (YGtCTO Music #97)

Symphonie fantastique

Composed by Hector Berlioz

At some point in middle school, I found myself in the local public library in the reference section. I was probably looking something up for class. Among all the encyclopedia and dictionaries, they had all those books filled with data about people, places and things. Somehow, my eyes settled on a guide to private schools in the United States. I glanced through it, half expecting not to find my school listed. It had to be too small. Besides it was located in Ohio. Did the rest of the country even know that we existed? Of course, I stumbled upon the right page. I think it even included a photograph. Whatever the blurb said, I felt utterly humiliated. That’s what I remember. The whole thing seemed so pompous.

I was right, but it was still a pretty interesting education that was provided. In most ways, students had the same awful experience of those years as everyone else. The knowledge imparted by the instructors varied a bit off from the normal curriculum, but maybe not that far. We got pretty good playing the recorder. We toured an autopsy facility and touched a pickled brain. Some of us studied college astronomy or anthropology. We learned some fantastic art history. We tried yoga.

Hector Berlioz

One of the teachers

had to expose us to classical music, which had to be an awful assignment. The eye rolling must have been loud enough to sound like a pack of Chiclets. However, we did sit there and listen while she played whatever fit her curriculum. I think she genuinely liked the music, which had to help.

Maybe it would have happened with Debussy or Beethoven or Mozart or Bach or someone, but I connected with Berlioz.

His fantastic symphony hit all the necessary emotions so that I connected with it in some unexpected way. By that time, I had already felt that special frisson that we all recognize when we are in the presence of art that speaks to us. I just had never experienced before that while listening to something so… old.

I really liked it, so much so that I have attended a number of performances. The disc pictured here was made days after I heard Christoph von Dohnányi conduct the Cleveland Orchestra. Fortunately for me, the work remains popular as part of the repertoire.

My middle school is no more, which I am okay with. I have no idea what happened during its final years. My parents spent their final years nearby, so I had occasion to walk past the grounds. The building has fallen on hard times. I have no idea what happened to any of my fellow students and little inclination to find out. We all carry those years and that knowledge gleaned from those teachers and those experiences. I don’t think we’re better or worse for it than we would have been otherwise- just another pond that we dipped into and can call upon when needed.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 11 more to go.

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