The Song that Made Me Rethink Classical Music

Read about how this author learned how to listen to classical music.

Wafts of fog cascaded through the trees, blurring the waters of Lake Michigan as I geared up for a run on Chicago’s lakefront path. The remnants of an early spring rain swept a chill through my bones as I scrolled through Spotify, looking for a soundtrack that would motivate me to move my legs on a sluggish Sunday. My usual running playlist with its upbeat melodies and pumping rhythms didn’t feel appropriate for a colorless day like this, when sitting with a mug of tea and a book indoors sounded so much better. 

I found an album that I had recently listened to by a Berlin-based group called vision string quartet. I had heard vision string quartet on Chicago’s public classical music station, and it had stuck out because the pieces didn’t sound anything like what I usually thought of as classical music. While it has the traditional quartet composition of two violins, a viola, and a cello, the buoyancy and inventiveness of this quartet’s repertoire drew me in. Without any lyrics, I could hear the unblemished notes of each instrument. The pieces had a sense of urgency to them, propelling me forward as I began to jog to the group’s newest album, Spectrum.

While many of the pieces take on an optimistic, playful tone, I was jarred when the last piece played through my earbuds. The concluding track of the album is ironically entitled “Run to You.” A stark contrast from the other pieces, “Run to You” reflects on longing, desperation, and uncertainty. The four instruments play in unison, different notes on the same trail, harmonizing human emotions that words cannot illustrate. The piece is understated and authentic: no fancy plucking or accelerated arrays of notes — just raw, unfiltered humanity in a minor key.  

As I jogged on the path with only a few other walkers, I accessed a melancholy within me that brought upon dual reactions of awe and ache. “Run to You” broke through my racing thoughts and drew out both my deepest fears of loneliness and greatest hopes of joy. After the musicians bowed their final notes, I cleansed my emotional palette with songs from my usual running playlist. I couldn’t let that final chord be the conclusion of my run, unwilling to sit with those dissonant feelings for too long.

Yet, throughout the week, I couldn’t get “Run to You” out of my head. To have a song stuck in your head that lacks lyrics is like trying to recall your first fully-formed memory — you may think you have it nailed down, but the reality is always slightly different. I started playing the album on my morning commute, always landing on “Run to You.” Listening to the clear sounds of just four instrumentalists when so much of our current music offerings are filled with layers of instruments, voices, and computerized sounds has allowed me to develop an intimacy with this piece.  

My relationship with “Run to You” is still unfolding. Some days I hear anguish, some days hope, and some days I hear comfort in the notes. With just the four instruments playing, there is an enduring undercurrent of solidarity, connection, and support. Its rawness allows me to reconnect with my own humanity, at least in a small dose. I am continually drawn back to this piece because it makes me curious about my own emotions and dreams as I try to extract meaning from its chords. 

As I’ve learned more about vision string quartet, its mission and content have brought me a gift I didn’t know I needed. The group is made up of four young men who aim to reinvent the way the world thinks about classical music. They experiment with both compositions and performances, once giving a concert completely in the dark.  

For Spectrum, they even created music videos. The video for “Samba” features each musician decked out in Hawaiian shirts playing their instruments while laying on beach towels in the sand, relaxing in a pool on a unicorn inner tube and goofing off around a barbecue. As they display uninhibited humor while bouncing on a diving board and trying to squeeze dozens of pool toys into their car, the video exudes a contagious jubilance and creativity. The quartet ends the video splashing in the water and mixing up cocktails as the sun sets behind them. The video is surprising, joyful, and pure glee — all accompanied with the plucking of their instruments. It is a reminder that regardless of your passion, you can pursue it in a way that stays true to the child within.  

Instrumental music quiets my mind in a way that other genres cannot. It allows me to listen without analyzing lyrics or thinking about how a singer’s story relates to my life — I am brought into my most basic states of emotion, and reminded that while my experiences are unique, the feelings that accompany them are shared across generations, cultures, and time periods.  

Vision string quartet has been an accompaniment and propeller for me over the past few weeks, opening my mind to new ways of expression and art. For both fans and skeptics of classical music, I promise that vision string quartet’s Spectrum is unlike any compositions you’ve heard before. As our world endures intense uncertainty and jarring heartbreak every day, Spectrum is a herald of the inventive, luminescent, and passionate nature of the human spirit.  

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