Calgary Phil bass player Matt Heller

You don’t need to take a course to love symphonic music. Whether or not you’ve mastered music history or theory, you can still be swept away by a Dvořák symphony, enraptured by a Chopin piano concerto, moved to tears by the Mozart Requiem.

So why sign up for a course called Evenings with the Calgary Philharmonic?

My hope is that people will come to the course who already appreciate music — classical and not — and are interested in sharing and deepening that appreciation. As powerful as music is, as deeply as it can affect us, finding a language to talk about it can be a challenge. Symphonic music can feel especially difficult to pry apart. We may find ourselves lost in abstraction, experiencing something profound and life-changing, but without words to describe the experience, besides “Listen to this!”

A lot of what is written and said about symphonic music can feel intentionally mystifying. There’s lots of jargon involved — deceptive cadence, modulation, diminution, recapitulation. This course is not about learning fancy words, but we do introduce concepts that can open up the experience, and help us see the forest for the trees. We’ll trace back to basic elements of music, like time, rhythm, repetition, variation. We’ll also relate it to musical structures and styles that may be more familiar. Most pop songs, for example, use a structure of verses, chorus, and a bridge. A symphonic movement may have a larger structure, with more material — but the patterns really aren’t much more complex.

Understanding form and structure, of course, is just setting the table. The joy is in what those forms contain — and how that material takes on a life of its own. If that last couple of years have taught me anything, it’s that music is a deeply social act, and that we find its meaning best through connection with others.

I’m excited to teach the spring session of Evenings with the Calgary Philharmonic, along with my co-teacher, Calgary Phil’s Artistic Director, Jennifer MacDonald. Every session of this course is different, because the concerts are different, and so are the students. The energy and interests you bring always inform the direction of the class, and can sometimes transform it. Whether you’ve taken courses like this before, or never even thought about it, I hope you’ll consider joining us.

Evenings with the Calgary Philharmonic is offered in co-operation with the University of Calgary. The Spring 2022 course starts on 25 April and includes select Calgary Phil performances. Register here.