When “classical” public radio stations surveyed their audiences some years back, the most common answer to the question, “Why do you listen to classical music,” was, “Because it’s soothing.” Now think of Beethoven for a moment, the man whose very name defines “classical music” for many people. He wrote music that sends the soul soaring, that plumbs the depths of human despair, that shatters silence with violent assaults.
Beethoven’s Fifth, for example, is many things, but… soothing? Well, “soothing” sometimes does just means soothing – a few moments of Clair de lune, perhaps, after a Twilight of the Gods kind of day. But my theory is that what people most often really mean by “soothing” is “reassuring.” Great classical music is reassuring in that the listener knows that his musical expectations will be fulfilled; that there remains order, beauty, dependability, familiarity, and meaning in our disturbed and disturbing world.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.