Five Ways to Become More Cultured: Adding Classical Music to Your Daily Life

Many individuals and families have a desire to be cultured. You know, take that step up from cheddar cheese to Gruyère, hot dogs to pancetta, Avril Lavigne to Hilary Hahn.

It’s like going from this:

Photo by Nick Saltmarsh

to this:

Photo by Nate Steiner

In a world that is becoming increasingly casual and satisfied with mundane and flavorless activities, a great way to add more refinement to your daily (yes, daily) life is to pump it up with classical music! And I don’t mean by occasionally tuning your radio to the classical station to get away from endless coverage of the Republican primaries.

If you find yourself

• playing Angry Birds and Words with Friends for hours per day
• neglecting your New Year’s Resolutions to better yourself
• spending all your free time glazing over your Facebook newsfeed
• watching TV because you don’t know what else to do

. . . try adding a touch of classical music to your day to refresh your senses and invigorate your mind.

Five Ways to Add Classical Music to Your Daily Life

1) Listen to your local classical station. And not just to escape the commercials, news, or bad songs on other stations. Try stepping away from pounding drum beats and heated talk radio for even ten minutes during breakfast, on your commute, or while you fold laundry. You’ll be surprised how a little Bach can melt some of the stress out of the daily grind.

2) Tap into your local classical music scene. Not only will listening to your local classical station be literal music to your ears, tuning in is a great way to find out about local classical performances in your neighborhood. Take note of upcoming community concerts, professional symphony performances, operas, solo recitals, and local festivals. And after you take note, don’t just let the opportunity pass you by. Actually GO.

3) Read up. There’s no better way to feel more cultured than to throw in a few little known facts about Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring into your dinner conversation. But beyond just impressing your friends, there’s something enlivening about continuing your lifelong cultural education through informative literature. Check out composer biographies, the program notes you always throw away, or the Arts & Life section of your local newspaper. Get in the know!

Photo by Jason Weinberger

4) Use the technology you have. Spotify, Grooveshark, and Pandora are great resources to expose yourself to classical music, whether they’re familiar composers such as Beethoven and Mozart or contemporary performers such as Joshua Bell and Gil Shaham. Look up books, articles, music, and podcasts about classical music on your Kindle or smart phone. Read about classical music, artists, and techniques on Wikipedia. Step away from Facebook for a moment to gain some new knowledge! And when you find it, sure, post a link on your wall for your friends.

5) Play. Whether you’re a seasoned musician or one who’s never seen a sheet of music, go for it! Sign up for lessons, noodle on your friend’s piano, and practice on a regular basis. Playing classical music will flex your brain muscles in a way you don’t use them doing any other activity during the day. Even practicing scales and arpeggios can be strangely relaxing as a physical and mental activity that certainly involves more of your senses than when you’re playing Farmville. It may seem daunting to get up off the couch, turn off the TV, and set aside the cheese puffs, but spending even a few minutes during your day to play music will give you a great sense of accomplishment–even refinement–when you’re done.

Playing While Pregnant

When I found out this last summer that I was pregnant with my first child, I knew that I would have to make adjustments to my everyday life.  I wasn’t sure exactly what all of those would be since  I had never been a mom before.  Luckily, there is a lot of information available online and in print for curious new moms like me.  I discovered I would have to change what I was eating, start taking a pre-natal vitamins, not ride roller coasters, things like that.

Pre-Pregnancy Playing

When the fall approached and the music groups that I had been playing in started new rehearsals after the summer break, I found myself asking a new question: how do you handle pregnancy as a musician?  I knew I wasn’t the first woman to try be a musician and pregnant at the same time.  I spent hours online and reading books trying to find any information about playing string instruments while pregnant.  All I could find were more first time moms with questions like mine.

What’s a girl to do?

Well, I decided to just “go for it.”  I would play like I usually had each year before and make any adjustments I need to along the way.  Now that I am in the last few weeks of pregnancy and having just finished the last concert I would play before my little one appears, I thought I would share some tips for other pregnant musicians that want to know how to make it all work.

1.  Know where the bathrooms are.  There is nothing like a full bladder to throw off your concentration, timing, intonation, and everything else.  Most people that you are playing with will understand if you disappear for a few minutes.

2. Drink lots of water.  This might seem counterproductive (especially considering the previous tip) but studies show that when you are well hydrated, the swelling and muscle aches that can hinder a musician from playing their best are lessened.

3.  Invest in the appropriate brace.  Personally, I spend most of my time playing the cello and violin and I developed pregnancy related carpal tunnel in my left hand.  I found that wearing a brace during the day when I wasn’t playing or night when I slept prevented or reduced any pain associated with this while playing.

My husband and I after a trio recital at 6 months pregnant

4.  Stretch and take breaks.  For pregnant gals, it is recommended that you take a break from sitting/standing every 20 minutes.  I like to incorporate some yoga as the stretching portion. There are positions for sitting and standing that will give your joints relief.  The 20 minute rule works well for practice sessions.  It can be difficult to keep this up if you are playing a concert/gig and when the program/set usually doesn’t have a break for 30 minutes or more.  If you find yourself in this situation, prior preparation is key.  Get plenty of sleep the night before and stretch beforehand.

5.  It’s okay to say no.  This is one I struggle with.  I used to play music with every one that would let me,  but it is very important that you don’t try to do it all.  The baby takes up a lot energy and during pregnancy, you can’t do everything like you used to.  Besides, if you are exhausted, you will put yourself at greater risk for injury and you will your baby under stress.

6.  Know that every pregnancy is different.  You may not experience joint pain or get carpal tunnel but you may get nosebleeds or some other weird pregnancy symptoms that would effect how you play.  Just know that there is a way to deal with any symptom out there.

7.  Remember that pregnancy doesn’t last forever.  All the aches and pains associated with pregnancy end after the baby is delivered.  For some women, they are back to normal with in a few days, some it takes a few moths.  Either way, you will be back in prime playing shape.

If I knew at the beginning of my pregnancy what I know now, there are a few things I would do differently.  For instance, I took on way too many gigs this holiday season, but I still survived.  Hopefully these tips provide some encouragement to other musicians out there embarking on motherhood.