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Classical music made easy

"Serious music" for the rest of us, taught by a pro

By Pavla Kozakova, August 28, 2002

For some, though they might enjoy bits and pieces of classical music, sitting through an entire concert is annoying. It is for this crowd that courses such as the ones taught by Bibi Pelic exist.

The Croatian violinist decided to lend a helping hand to those who want to gain a better understanding of classical music. This past February Pelic launched her first series of music discussion courses. Course participants had a chance to learn more about the history and background of classical music, in all its different shapes and forms.

Pelic has been enchanted by classical music ever since she was a child. When she was 6 years old, she saw the first part of Mendelssohn's violin concerto on television and fell in love with the instrument. "I love the sound of the violin and I think that it is the most complex musical instrument apart from the human voice," Pelic said.

Pelic, who plays about 50 concerts a year, began to include curiosities such as Bosnian folk songs and popular music hits from the 1950s and '60s at the end of her recitals. "I found out that people liked it very much, and I started to wonder why people go very often to popular music concerts and not so often to classical ones," she said.

She started to explain some of the pieces that she played and realized that people seemed to enjoy the music more after her explanations. "So I thought, why not do something organized and structured?" she said. Composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein's instructional concerts, broadcast on television in the late 1950s to the early 1970s, were her direct inspiration.

In her courses, Pelic runs through the general history of music, defines the function of the orchestra, lists the various instruments and explains terms such as sonata and concertino. She dedicates some of her courses to Czech music, exploring for example the work of Bedrich Smetana. Other thematic discussions include an explanation of the rules that govern opera and symphony.

For Pelic, what the Czechs call vazna hudba ("serious music") doesn't need to be taken so seriously. "Classical music is also fun - it is just [a matter] of understanding it," said Pelic, who believes that classical music has such inherent quality and value that it will remain enduringly popular.

Pelic teaches not only about the music. According to the violinist, enlightening people on the lives of the composers, who for the most part were very interesting characters, can enhance understanding and therefore enjoyment of the music itself. "For example, knowing the fates of the two famous German contemporaries, Bach and Handel, will help you to understand why their music is so different," said Pelic. While both men were born in the same year (1685), Johann Sebastian Bach spent most of his life in small towns, hardly ever traveling, and had close ties to the Lutheran Church. On the other hand, George Frideric Handel lived in big cities such as Hamburg and London and was a frequent guest at various royal courts.

When Pelic's first class was attended by 30 students, she told the news to her mother. Mrs. Pelic's response, however, was cautious. "I am interested who will come the second time," her mother said, but the following class was also a success, confirming that the idea was a good one.

"According to the feedback from the participants, they now have a better understanding and appreciation of the music," Pelic said. The workshops are, however, also good for Pelic herself as an artist, as they provide for her a new impetus for performing and inspire her work. "Because I play for the public, it is important for me to know how the listeners are enjoying the music, what they like about it and what they do not like and why," she said.


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