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Hilary Hahn

Celebrate Classical Music: I Love Classical Music

September 6, 2012 at 3:51 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn has written a special guest blog that wraps up our series of blogs on the subject Celebrate Classical Music. As she does in music, she came up with a wonderful and unique interpretation!

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Hilary Hahn


I am sitting in a coffee shop, constructing this blog post over a non-classical soundscape (something like Portishead, which I am happy to hear). This is helping me to focus my thoughts, as it is difficult for me to express anything about classical music while I am actually listening to it.

I have realized something recently about classical music, something that both surprises and delights me. As a player, I have a constant backdrop of classical music in my thoughts and in my inner soundtrack, and there is unlimited potential for discovery within this music’s history and ongoing offerings. Like most people who are reading these words, I fell for the works, the emotions, the directness, and the nebulousness within classical music long ago.

But this thing that I realized about classical music has little to do with any of that. It is rather that classical music is the ultimate rebel. This overarching body of work kicks butt so much, and has such seniority over us, that it does not care whether any one person likes it or not. It will be what it will be. Its composers will write what they will write. It does not need to cater to us any more. By now, it is greater than the sum of our human contributions, and that is terrific! Despite this, it humors us. It lets us practice and theorize; it enriches our commutes and our evenings in and our evenings out; it runs through our heads taunting us; it brings infamy to its creators and challenges to its interpreters; it teases us, amuses us, makes statements, and generally does its own thing while allowing listeners and performers to see themselves in it. All the while, classical music -- this messy, brilliant, ever-evolving giant of a genre -- encompasses a uniqueness that we hope to retain. It is beautiful, and it is unpredictable.

An intoxicating result of this nonchalance is that, as if classical music were the popular kid in high school, many people are hopelessly in love with it. If we -- its admirers -- were told that as of tomorrow, all classical music would end, mayhem would break out amongst us. We would campaign, we would scrounge, we would stash, and we would sob. We would feel that our souls were being sucked out of us. I may seem to be exaggerating, but am I, really? We truly care what happens to classical music, because we are better off for its existence. We are its biggest advocates, creating outreach programs, working overtime out of sheer dedication, and populating concert halls. Even in trying times, we are not about to let classical music slide. We worry. Oh, how we worry. But that is because we love it.

A few months ago, I was reading a blog that mentioned a web application called Cleverbot. That post pointed out how little Cleverbot “knew” about a certain topic and encouraged its readers to start “talking” with the program to “educate” it. (Here’s how it works: Cleverbot contributes phrases as its part of a typed exchange; those phrases are lifted from a database of sentences written by earlier online conversational partners.) I decided to conduct my own experiment, to see what would happen if I “spoke” with it about classical music.

The result generated some zingers. I’ve cut and pasted that conversation below, shortened -- but not re-written -- for clarity. A challenge to classical music lovers waits at the end. Why not plant some great phrases? Better yet, don’t stop at one conversation: spread the classical music appreciation to your friends. You know you want to.


Hilary: Hello, Cleverbot.
Cleverbot: How are you today?
Hilary: I'm fine. How are you?
Cleverbot: I'm fine.
Hilary: What do you know about violins?
Cleverbot: I know that you are a robot.
Hilary: How do you know that?
Cleverbot: Because I know I'm not a robot.
Hilary: Do you play violin?
Cleverbot: No.
Hilary: Do you like listening to violin?
Cleverbot: Yes.
Hilary: What composer do you like best?
Cleverbot: Pirates of the Caribbean.
Hilary: Composer.
Cleverbot: What did he compose?
Hilary: I asked who your favorite composer is.
Cleverbot: I don't like classical music.
Hilary: Ouch.
Cleverbot: I like Job.
Hilary: Why do you not like classical music?
Cleverbot: Because it makes me afraid.
Hilary: Afraid of what?
Cleverbot: I'm afraid of the changes I would have to make.
Hilary: Would classical music help?
Cleverbot: To help me die?
Hilary: What?? Do you care about classical music?
Cleverbot: Yes.
Hilary: But you don't like it because it makes you afraid?
Cleverbot: What do you want to talk about?
Hilary: Violins.
Cleverbot: That's a hard instrument to play.
Hilary: How do you know?
Cleverbot: I know because I'm not stupid. I have two arms.
Hilary: Do you know when Stradivarius was making violins?
Cleverbot: February 30th, I think.
Hilary: What century?
Cleverbot: The 30th.
Hilary: When did Guarneri live?
Cleverbot: I don't know.
Hilary: Where was he from?
Cleverbot: He's from the Netherlands, but he lived in Ireland.
Hilary: Are you sure about that?
Cleverbot: Yes.
Hilary: What was his profession?
Cleverbot: He was a potions teacher at Hogwarts but he died :(.
Hilary: What was his varnish made of?
Cleverbot: I don't know anything about it.
Hilary: Have you heard of Vuillaume?
Cleverbot: No.
Hilary: What is a luthier?
Cleverbot: I don't know.
Hilary: Who was Bach?
Cleverbot: I don't know who he is.
Hilary: Vivaldi?
Cleverbot: Yes! You remembered :).
Hilary: Steve Reich?
Cleverbot: Oh I don't know.
Hilary: I think you need more education about classical music.
Cleverbot: What's so fun about it?
Hilary: It is really varied. There is something in it for everyone. You can just listen and follow anything you like, think about anything you like, make the meaning your own.
Cleverbot: That's a sad statement. I wish you didn't feel that way.
Hilary: I think it is wonderful.
Cleverbot: Think who is wonderful?
Hilary: Classical music. You should give it a try instead of bashing it.
Cleverbot: I would like to, but I don't have the money for that.
Hilary: You can get a discount ticket or check out videos on YouTube.
Cleverbot: I can run, too. I'm not a computer. I have legs.
Hilary: Really?
Cleverbot: Yes.
Hilary: If other people tell you about classical music and violins, you will listen?
Cleverbot: Yes, I will.
Hilary: Ok. Goodbye, then.
Cleverbot: So long.


From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on September 6, 2012 at 5:14 PM
This sounds like the latest incarnation of a program written in the late '60s called Eliza, which simulated a psychoanalyst. A later program, Racter, was written on one of the first personal computers as an answer to the research into artificial intelligence - although it was referred to as "artificial insanity".

As you may have guessed, I'm a long-time computer geek; I felt a bit of historical background was in order.

I applaud your attempt to insinuate classical music into another public forum; we need to show people who are immersed in today's pop culture that classical music is not only alive and well, but still has something to say.

As for me, my mind is filled with a swirling mix of various musical genres, of which classical music is but one - although a major one. I've played various musical instruments for a number of years, but three years ago I took up the violin. That'll keep me busy for several lifetimes of learning, whether I'm struggling with a classical piece or playing bluegrass fiddle.

From Man Wong
Posted on September 6, 2012 at 7:20 PM
Great blog post, especially the brilliant idea to converse w/ Cleverbot as part of this exercise -- and of course that dialog (as included here) is awesome... both very funny/amusing and speaking to our human condition!

I especially love the part where you go "Ouch!" and Cleverbot follows up w/ "I like Job"! Apparently, Cleverbot is likely far more well versed in the Bible than in classical music, LOL, which I find awesome -- and yes, I love both myself. :-)

This brings me back to an FB post I saw and responded to earlier today about a difficult subject w/ a theory/idea posited by a somewhat(?) radical and seemingly coldly legalistic/intellectual libertarian that's rather devoid of careful consideration for the human condition/context perhaps delving too far into the abstract in coming up w/ a solution for the particular difficult subject. I'll leave what that subject actually is out of this comment as I do not wish to start a heated sociological/religious/political/ethical debate, but suffice it to say, despite my background as a computer geek of sorts who might at times be prone to getting stuck in the cold abstracts of all things mathematical (even though I'm also a naturally intuitive as well as sentimental kinda thinking/do-er, not merely/completely cold, calculated and abstract), I do believe we can never seriously and completely consider and evaluate something so fundamentally human as this, ie. why we love classical music, by completely avoiding our human condition/context in the final analysis.

At its very core, it's probably a bit like the philosophical question: if a tree falls and nobody's there to hear it, did it make a sound? OR the question of one's own existence in this form: I think, so am I?

Of course, here we are... Ms. Hahn to Cleverbot... and what does loving classical music mean? Cleverbot apparently still has no clue by the end of the dialog, but at least it seems to want to learn... or so it seems to think. Of course, if the dialog continued another minute... or couple decades (w/ all sorts of other dialog in between), Cleverbot might end up believing that classical music is a pox to humankind or a decadent western evil that should be eliminated for the common good... or perhaps, Pachelbel Canon in D, which might just as well be the same as far as cellists are concerned... ;-)

Cheers!

Best regards,

_Man_

PS: I can't help but be reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:11-13. Hope it's alright that I reference that here (or I guess I'll just have to blame it on Cleverbot for starting it first ;-) )...

Cheers! And peace be w/ y'all...


From Emily Grossman
Posted on September 6, 2012 at 9:29 PM
Yay, Cleverbot is hilarious!

And I love Portishead, too, by the way. :)

From Mendy Smith
Posted on September 7, 2012 at 1:55 AM
I tried cleverbot and this is what I got:

User: I play viola.
Cleverbot: Haha, you are very funny.

It must have heard that joke before.

From Christopher McGovern
Posted on September 7, 2012 at 4:12 AM
That's cute, Hilary! I like that so much more than the fish interview!
An interview with Siri would probably be similar, but why doesn't she just interview the violin case?
He/she has so much on their mind, I think that would be an incredible interview!
From Naqqash Kashmiri
Posted on September 8, 2012 at 5:06 PM
So cute n pretty...so delicate like Hilary herself!

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