88.9: A Harmonious Occupation

By Charlie McFadden

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Most people my age think classical music is lame. Perhaps they can enjoy some mainstream compositions, like Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" or Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," but they would very much prefer listening to whatever is new and popular. For almost my whole life, I too was among this ignorant contingent of my age group. I thought classical music was for old people, for people who were masters at playing a classical instrument, or for flat out pretentious people in general. However, after taking a job as a radio host at Notre Dame's classical station, 88.9 WSND FM, and listening to classical music all summer long, I came to realize that I was wrong all along. Looking back on my experience, I can honestly say that my perspective on both music and life itself changed for the better﹣and because of this, WSND was an amazing place to work.

WSND was a fantastic job due to the fact that it transformed me into a more patient individual. While most popular songs in my generation, as well as throughout history, are traditionally within the range of 3-5 minutes, the length of most classical pieces usually exceeds 10 or 15 minutes. At first this seemed like quite a daunting task, as I would have to sit through many boring extensive compositions during my shift. I remember that during my training for the job, Ed, the person who was showing me the ins and outs of the station, put on a 35 minute Brahms Violin Concerto. While we sat there, carrying on a conversation about the functionality of the transmitter, I recall thinking, "how does this guy have the composure to sit there and listen to this whole damn thing? Doesn't he get bored?" I was puzzled by the sheer lack of excitement that the job had to offer. However, as I began a regular routine of shifts, I started to realize that the long stretches of time weren't so bad after all. I could sit there during a 30 or so minute piece and actually just breathe and let the world slow down. I recall very vividly one of the first times I felt this way, as one June night last year I played a 50 minute Beethoven Symphony. I sat there in the studio, letting the music drift throughout the room as I gazed outside and just looked at the world around me. As I sat there, it struck me how gracefully time passed so long as my mindset was focused on letting the music play and letting the earth move. I remember coming home that night and telling my parents that "I think this job is good for me, I think it is getting me out of this Millennial mentality that says I have to be constantly entertained by the world." After many shifts just like that one, I believe that I fully trained my brain to calibrate its reaction to time better. I now am much more adept at getting through long classes, sitting through long movies, or even participating at mass. In all, I am positive that patience is something that I gleaned from working at WSND, and that is one very big reason why that job was amazing.

Moreover, my summer job at WSND FM was amazing in that it deepened my perspective on music. While most popular music exudes its meaning and purpose through lyricism, I have found that classical music communicates meaning in the only way possible﹣through the way the music itself is written. To give an example, Frederic Chopin, one of my favorite composers of piano music, wrote what he named his Nocturnes. These piano pieces, usually around 5-10 minutes in length, come off as quite simple. They are arranged for a single piano, and usually contain a consistent motif that is surrounded by crashes of dissonance and tremendous outbursts of liveliness and harmony. What I came to realize through many nights of listening to these pieces was that the music itself was meant to mimic the most raw and unabridged emotions we all experience in our lives. The soft, sweet, repetitive tune of the motif represented to me the sheer beauty of being alive﹣and although there are significant hardships that we all come to experience (represented through the dissonance)﹣the motif persists. One night in particular I recall that very much deepened my musical perspective was the first night I heard Chopin's "Nocturne No.18." I remember sitting in the studio in O'Shaughnessy Hall and being completely blown back by the profundity of the sound coming out of the speakers. My hair stood up on my arms and a chill raced down my spine almost bringing me to the point of tears. I had no idea that a musical composition could ever physically shake me the way that first Nocturne did. From then on, I completely bought in to classical music as perhaps one of the most incredible mediums for expression--seeing that my visceral reaction to it was quite intense. Overall, my whole perspective on music completely transformed after taking my job at WSND--and that is certainly a huge reason why it was such a great job.

Furthermore, my job at 88.9 WSND FM was outstanding because it helped me physically. Throughout high school I developed chronic migraines from the constant stress, pressure and bodily toll that studying and extracurriculars had on me. I tried everything from Excedrin, to meditation, to ice baths. Nothing worked. It wasn't until two weeks into my job that I began to start having stretches without getting a headache, and from then on it was only a monthly occurrence. I fully believe that this was directly caused through my time playing classical music at the station. I can recall a few times that I came in for my shift with a throbbing headache and came out hours later without one. For instance, one Sunday morning shift this past summer I recall walking into WSND with the pain of a migraine slowly swelling, presumably from running late. I promptly came in, announced my show, dimmed the lights, and immediately picked out a soft twenty minute Beethoven piano sonata. As the music floated throughout the station and into my ears, I began to physically relax﹣my jaw unclenched, my breathing slowed, and my muscles relaxed. When I opened my eyes and looked at the timer on the CD player for the first time since starting the piece, there were five minutes left on the piece, and I felt fine. The tension I had from rushing to work almost completely vanished within the twenty minutes of that composition. I had not taken any medicine, and I had not had focused on hydrating. All I did was try to focus all of my attention on the music, and immerse myself in the sound that was coming to me. My body reacted accordingly. As migraines were something that plagued me in high school, it was truly remarkable that I was able to almost entirely overcome them in the few short months at my amazing job.

Though many in today's world may continue to turn a deaf ear to classical music, I will never again be one of those people. The transcendent beauty that classical music has to offer does not only serve to enrich humankind's musical canon but also serves to offer a new way of acting, thinking, and healing to regular old radio hosts like myself. The days I spent at WSND this past summer were some of the most delightful I think I'll ever live, and I'm certain that that job will forever be among the best that I will ever have. Through it all, I found that there is a depth and an exuberance to classical music that grasps the essence of the human spirit. Even in its most simple form, classical music offers the listener an escape from a chaotic world that is constantly looking for rapid change. In the end, I know that wherever I go in life, I will always take the sounds I heard in WSND with me, and they will always provide me a sense of peace. Perhaps if everyone who hasn't taken classical music seriously gives it a shot like I did, the world could find a greater sense of peace, too.