Notes of genius are wasted on young, unready ears

06/14/2014 10:15 PM

06/14/2014 10:17 PM

I remember from elementary school years — fourth or fifth grade, I believe it must have been — being loaded with classmates on a bus and transported to Municipal Auditorium for concerts by our city’s philharmonic orchestra.

The intention, unquestionably, was to awaken in us an interest in something more refined than comic books, playground games and the mastery of cursive longhand.

Unfortunately, cultural exposures do not always engage and inspire the very young in a way that well-meaning adults might hope.

Truth is, many of us hated those outings.

The rules were absolute and the supervision relentless and constant. Sit where directed — not necessarily next to a friend. No talking or giggling or passing of notes. No moving about, even for sanitary needs.

The performances, though little more than an hour long — possibly 90 minutes at most — seemed to last an eternity.

The announcement of another such dismal affair upcoming engendered no eagerness. Only dread and despair.

I mean no unkindness in saying this. The musicians, I’m sure, were wonderfully talented, their renditions of the classical compositions flawless.

The deficiency was entirely ours. We simply were unprepared at age 9 or 10 to appreciate such mastery. Only now, many decades later, do I understand what pleasure I surely missed.

The sense of that was driven powerfully home recently when good friends invited us to share with them a performance by the Kansas City Symphony and Symphony Chorus in Helzberg Hall of the glorious Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

The masterwork of the evening was Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem, which premiered in Milan, Italy, on May 22, 1874 — 140 years and 24 days ago today.

His Requiem was inspired by the passing of two of his greatly admired contemporaries — composer Gioachino Rossini in 1868 and writer Alessandro Manzoni five years later.

Verdi was no stranger to grief. His son, Romano, and daughter, Virginia Maria, both died in infancy.

And at age 27, shortly after the unfavorable critical reception of his second opera, Verdi’s 26-year-old wife, Margherita, also died. Courageously, he continued to compose — creating some 26 operas before his death of a stroke, in January 1901, at a hotel in Milan.

The performance of his Requiem here gave admirable testimony to his brilliance. Beautifully conducted, the melding of brass and strings, woodwinds and drums stimulated emotion of a power I’d rarely felt before. Certainly never in those obligatory boyhood attendances at the philharmonic.

Some works of genius simply are not accessible to childish ears.

For more of C.W. Gusewelle, go to


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