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The Best of TED: Music and Passion

By Brian | March 30, 2010 | Share on Facebook

I’ve tried “regular features” on I Should Be Sleeping before, only to rack up considerable guilt for not keeping them up to date, and then abandoning them unless they’re brought back by popular demand. So I won’t promise any regularity here, but I have built up a considerable list of these videos, and my current plan is to share one every once in a while.

For those who aren’t familiar with TED, it’s the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference, in which experts and luminaries of various stripes come to speak with other experts and luminaries who are willing to shell out a few thousand dollars to listen. Speakers have ranged from well-known folks like Al Gore and Bill Gates to virtually unknown college professors, researchers, artists and the like. The conference organizers cull what they believe are the best presentations and post them on TED.com, which means that just about every one of them is mildly interesting, and I’ve been jotting down the URL’s of the ones I’ve found particularly insightful for quite some time now.

The first talk that made me jot down the URL was this one by conductor and classical music enthusiast, Benjamin Zander:

In it, he talks about the lack of interest most people have toward classical music and his personal quest to change all of that. He starts by playing a short Prelude by Frederic Chopin on the piano, and acknowledging that by the second phrase, most people have begun thinking about their plans for their next vacation, and by the end, some have even nodded off to sleep.

But then, he explains the mechanics of the piece, sets the right emotional tone, and plays it again. Even if you’re not fond of classical music (especially if you’re not fond of it), I highly recommend you watch the video. I was amazed at how effective his explanation was. I’ve been a musician for most of my life, and while I’ve always had a great respect for classical music and the musicians who play it well, I’ve never been able to make it hold my interest for very long. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Zander’s second playing of Chopin’s piece.

All of that said, I hasten to point out that when I hear this…

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.
When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May.
I guess you’ll say, ‘What can make me feel this way?’
My Girl.

…no one has to tell me what the author meant or how I should feel about it. Maybe that’s the advantage that popular music has over classical music right there. Or maybe the former has supplanted those qualities in the latter. Maybe Chopin’s audiences were able to understand his meaning without Mr. Zander’s explanation, in the same way that I understand Smokey Robinson? If so, it felt strangely satisfying to experience Chopin as it was originally intended.

Kind of like Frederic Chopin – Behind the Music. Or maybe that’s a bit much…

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