Zen for Ten 5: Want to change the world? Start here.

Blog Subscriber Bonus! When you subscribe to the blog and join our email list, you’ll receive a PDF of my flash-fiction story “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” which I wrote in response to Charles Mingus’s jazz tune of the same name. Subscribe (using the black button on the right), read the story, and then listen here to the music that inspired it.


Welcome back! Today we’re continuing last week’s conversation about Why Classical Music Matters, and continuing our feature of Johannes Brahms. Be sure to check out the notes below!

Today’s feature: Intermezzo in E Major, Op. 116 no. 6, by Johannes Brahms

About the music:

In last week’s post, I talked about how Brahms felt when he became famous as a young man: how hard it was for him, as a shy and introverted person, to deal with the weight of his own reputation.

Brahms was a pianist, first and foremost, even though he wrote for many other instruments too. I love the fact that with his late-period piano works, like today’s featured piece and last week’s, we get to see him sitting at the instrument that was home for him, writing music that comes straight from his core. As we listen to this music, we can hear how much emotion went into writing it. We can hear how a shy person, someone who had to hide sometimes from a world that was always watching him, could release his truest feelings when he played.

If you’re a musician, sometimes your instrument is your best friend. Plenty of times, when I didn’t know how to express or let out what I was feeling, I’ve sat down at the piano and talked to it through music. You can have a wonderful feeling of connection with the instrument you’re playing. Sometimes you can even imagine that this man-made object has its own soul: it’s easy to believe that.

So I love to imagine Brahms sitting at his piano, talking to it the way you would talk to your closest friend, who knows you almost as well as you know yourself. And it’s through this image that I think we can really experience what classical music has to offer us.

We live in a fractured world. Here in the US, as we come up on election day, we can see the divisions between us more clearly than ever. Our beliefs – religious, political, social, etc. – create chasms between us. They seem frighteningly, impassably huge, and that’s just between people who live in the same country and have a common language. When we think about that, we can wonder how we’re supposed to connect or try to relate to people from other parts of the world, people so totally different from ourselves.

This is where I think the music of Brahms, and others like him, can give us hope. Here we have wordless communication. We have a composer who’s gone, but his thoughts and feelings can still reach us and call to us across boundaries of time and distance. Brahms was German; I don’t speak German, so even if I could meet him, we wouldn’t be able to communicate in words. But we can understand each other through music, his heart and mind speaking to mine.

So let’s take this music out and share it. We have more common ground than we think, and this music gives us a place to start.

Brahms, J. c. & the Red Hedgehog. German composer. On the way to the Red Hedgehog by Otto Bohler. 'Johannes Brahms auf dem Wege zum 'roten Igel'.

Brahms’s favorite pub in Vienna was the Red Hedgehog. Here we see him with its mascot (image from Tumblr).

Thought exercise/Challenge:

If you liked today’s piece, share it with someone else, especially someone who may not listen to much classical music or know much about it. Let it start a conversation. If you’d like to tell me about that experience, send me an email at kris@krisfaatz.com, for possible feature here on the blog.








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