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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Column: Amateur reverence

Monday marked the 200th birthday of Frédéric Chopin, Poland’s renowned Romantic composer. Happy birthday, old man.

Poland held a lavish celebration for the composer’s bicentennial, who even today is nothing short of a national hero to the country. Chopin’s patriotic themes are iconic of both the Romantic period and Poland’s struggle for independence – even German Nazi forces worked hard to banish his work during World War II, for fear of its effect on Polish citizens. Chopin’s heart – removed and preserved in alcohol – rests in an urn in Poland. The biggest international airport in Warsaw is named after him.

We’re celebrating Poland’s hero here in the States, too. One such celebration is happening in the most unlikely of venues – the World Finance Center in New York. Until Friday, the Center is holding multiple performances of Chopin’s works by esteemed pianists. They’re also leaving five pianos throughout the New York complex for amateur pianists to perform Chopin’s works.

Sounds fun. The Center might be an unlikely venue for such homage, but many Wall Street day traders and brokers probably had to take piano lessons once, too.

But why let amateurs celebrate the birthday of such an esteemed composer? Isn’t this a little inappropriate? What if they break the pianos?

It’s true that there have been some pretty poor (and really, amateur) tributes to the composer recently. For example, a search for “Chopin” on Twitter revealed some pretty pretentious words of remembrance. “Learning to live life through Chopin’s hands,” one guy posted. “Ahh, time for some nice Chopin. What better way to start the evening?” Puke.

Even Muse’s recent “United States of Eurasia” features a dramatized “arrangement” of Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat Major op. 9 No. 2 at the end of the song. The song is complete with a string section, unnecessary trills and a fighter jet flyover. Get over yourselves, Muse – you’re a boy band and you know it.

Nonetheless, Chopin’s music truly appeals to the masses. Almost everyone I know that used to play the piano loved his work. I’m no different – I loved playing Chopin’s Nocturnes up until I left high school. They’re some of the few pieces I can still play. I brought four piano books up with me when I came to college, and three of them were Chopin anthologies. The other one was a Dream Theater book, which is only slightly embarrassing.

That’s why Chopin’s music, as classically mainstream as it is, should be shared with everyone. It’s perfect for amateurs.

As common and expected as it was for a piano student, it was liberating to play Chopin back in high school. I’ve never been more than an amateur pianist, but the years of practicing and performing made me really love the instrument.

It also made me realize that I’d never be a successful pianist. When another piano student impeccably performed three of Chopin’s Nocturnes after I did at a recital, the dream died. He eventually went on to Juilliard to study, and I went to UC Davis.

Chopin, like any great composer, died young. He only composed 15 hours of music before his death in 1849 at 39. That’s roughly the same amount of Radiohead I have in my iTunes library. There’s not that much work to perform, so why not offer it to anyone?

JUSTIN T. HO finds it odd that almost everyone else has birthdays in March, too. Send thoughts about what this might say about your parents to arts@theaggie.org.

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