by Natasha Regehr
It was a dark day in my uppity, overly cultured mind when, three years ago, I sneered at Syd Birrell’s lame idea to force a 100-voice choir into doing a Beatles show. Number one, the Beatles weren’t a choir. Number two, the Beatles weren’t real musicians; they were just pop freaks that old people now recall with a happy-hippie nostalgia. Number three, the Beatles are from A Very Long Time Ago. Before my time. Black-and-white, bespectacled has-beens.
You see, I’m a classical music snob who disdains all things popular on the assumption that 99% of what people are listening to these days is likely junk. To be fair, my rational mind reluctantly admits that many of my favourite classical composers were considered Viennese idols in their day; but who could say, at that juncture, which musicians were transient pop stars and which would remain titans of Western culture for centuries to come?
So, technically, I know that I am likely snubbing some genuine musical titans in my crass dismissal of anything that may potentially hurt my ears. But do I really want to sort through it all in order to find the 1% that is worthy of my esteem? No. I am much too busy with my Bach.
Bach, you see, I can trust. He’s been around for hundreds of years. Our entire harmonic system rests on the laurels of his chorales. He is the epitome of all that is honourable and immortal in Western music, and provides a finely ordered aural paradise for intelligent people everywhere.
Don’t you think it would be helpful if we could skip forward half a century or so, to see if Justin Bieber really is the big deal that everyone says he is? I’m a patient girl. I’m quite happy to wait until the popular becomes unpopular before deciding if it’s worth irritating my eardrums over. Just think of all the energy I saved by not liking the Spice Girls or the Back Street Boys until nobody else did either. If, for some reason, Biebermania is still in effect in 2063, I’ll reconsider my anti-Bieber stance. Until then, I’ll stick with Bach.
Or so I thought until Syd dropped the Beatles bomb: an entire program of music I was sure to detest, inundating my delicate sensibilities from all directions for weeks on end. Being the team player that I was, I magnanimously offered the choir the use of my singing voice for six rehearsals and a concert, on the condition that, when it was over, I would never, ever have to sing another Beatles tune again.
This went tolerably well, until I started liking Beatles tunes. I found myself singing them in my kitchen, and then exclaiming, “Eureka! This actually has an appealing melody!” I was shocked to discover that this band of misspelled arthropods could produce poignant, mature reflections on the human condition, nestled in the kinds of lusciously evocative harmonies that make my nose tingle. And as I opened my mind, I began to see that even the more frivolous fare has its place; these ditties about Sunshine and Submarines were the scherzos of the sixties, and there’s something about them that just feels good.
So, here I am, three years later, shamelessly anticipating my second Beatles concert, and thinking once again about the strange collusion between pop culture and real music in this enlightened head of mine. When our rehearsals started last month, I thought, “This is going to be a cinch. I already know everything I need to know about the Beatles.” Wrong! Did you know that the Beatles actually wrote a lot more music than can be stuffed into one concert program? And that I’ve never heard of half of it, even though everyone else has? Oh, the hubris of my unschooled mind!
And so my ever-steepening learning curve continues, aided this time around by YouTube and its many helpful recordings of the Beatles as they really were. Last time, you see, I learned all of my music at the piano with a metronome, and it was less than fun. This time, I’m blasting these tunes through my house at 2 a.m. while folding laundry, and having one mini-epiphany after another: “Oh! That’s why Syd wants the altos to sound like kazoos in ‘Lady Madonna’! Oh! That’s why everyone screams in the middle of ‘Hey Jude’! Oh! That’s why we need someone who knows how to whistle like a blackbird!” And, sheepishly, “Oh. . . That’s a Beatles tune?”
Indeed, it is. And do you know what? It was a Beatles tune 50 years ago, when uppity, overly cultured people like me were scoffing and saying that this new-fangled band was just a passing trend. It’s 2013, and everywhere I go, everyone still likes the Beatles. The group appeals as much to my naïve twelve-year-old students as it does to my esteemed colleagues and their jaded forbears. I bet in another 50 years, people will still be listening to this ancient band, and perhaps writing scholarly papers about its impact on Western culture.
So there you have it. Beatlemania returns to Peterborough on February 16th for a 2:00 matinee performance that will take you across the universe and back in a single afternoon. My only regret? I’ve been planning my sexy Beatleswear for the last three years, but Syd has said that we must try and look grown-up about it this time. Seriously? Do the go-go boots and miniskirts really have to stay at home?
Oh, Syd, please. Lighten up.
When: Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 2:00