When I first met Raul, I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. He checked me out & asked me on a date after seeing me at church, and I was in the middle of a cross-country visit to DC. Our very first conversation revealed that he was everything I wasn’t in high school, not the least of which is his role as best friend to the guy who was the lead in my high school’s musical my freshman year (swoon).
I was a really awkward, nerdy kid in high school. Ah, who am I kidding. I’m that nerd that can identify the oboe in a movie soundtrack, spent all my summers at band camp, and spazzes out about SF Opera’s broadcasts on local KQED TV (my roommates used to tease me mercilessly). I’ve always been ashamed of my lack of knowledge about pop (by which I mean: consonant-sounding) music – basically every genre except the 3 O’s – oboe, opera, and orchestra (OK, maybe some choral & Christian praise & worship too).
When Raul and I started dating, our relationship quickly became defined by music. On our second date, I sang to him. I’ve never had anyone to perform Allison Krauss’ “In the Palm of Your Hand” for, and since it’s one of my dreams to sound like her, and one of Raul’s dreams to date someone who sings, it was a pretty great start. After I returned to San Francisco, months of marathon Google+ hangouts quickly ensued. Most of Raul’s YouTube picks were love songs, and we quickly discovered how much our musical taste we have in common – his Ecuadorian roots & my training in Irish Celtic music gave us lots of cultural territory to explore (his friends in college used to call him “Raul Patrick McYepez.” Giddyap)
Two days after Christmas, Raul moved to San Francisco. After 5 months of staying up past my bedtime, wasting too much money on cross-country visits, and spending the holidays alone, sick with separation anxiety, the reality was that I needed him at arm’s length. He checked every single one of my boxes – the dimensions of compatibility rival even the best-scripted Match.com or Eharmony ad.
Having Raul’s car shipped to San Francisco meant that I could attend more concerts outside my public transit radius, and I quickly threw him in the deep end. In the first 3 months alone, we attended parties for the San Francisco Opera, a new venue, and the poor schmucks of the Cypress String Quartet who hired me for a summer internship back in the day, visited UC Davis, the San Jose Opera, and attended performances in San Francisco by aggressive new-music rock-influenced The Living Earth Show, new music choral powerhouse Volti, and the Omni Guitar Series, which has been featuring a string of early-career prize-winning artists from around the globe. My Christmas present to Raul was a stack of CDs from artists I work with.
After the first concert, he remarked that “I liked this one part, it sounded sort of like Beyonce.” He was open to attending the opera because his parents took him to musicals in high school, and he danced in a ballet production his senior year. By the time we attended Cypress String Quartet’s Call & Response gala at Herbst, Raul had become my poster child for young (21-35) audience development. Cecily Ward graciously complimented him on his active listening skills, and I soon discovered how having someone who could make conversations about something other than counterpoint might be useful. The next day, he asked if we could do something with our weekends besides attending concerts (gulp!), and a week later was scheduling bowling dates and movie nights.
I never took many classes in pedagogy or music appreciation, so I struggled at first to answer his questions about what he was missing beyond the surface-level emotional experience or lyrical expression in the libretto. How do you explain good art? How do you convey the power that comes with knowing how the story is going to end to someone who doesn’t? How do you describe text painting or any number of time-honored compositional techniques to someone for whom the poetic quality of the lyrics is the most important quality? Add these questions to a growing business, and the demands of a national artist roster, and you had a sorely confused, sadfaced nerdy kid. I just like classical music because it’s what you’re supposed to, and because I tried so gosh darn hard to keep up with all the Type A divas in my college sorority.
As David Loehr points out, the hardest thing to accept is the thought that not everyone’s going to get it. Or at least, not to the same degree. And that’s where we compromise, at least in relationships. And that’s why we have inflatable Dudamel, absinthe jell-o shots, Keeping Score (Beyond the Score in Chicago), and any number of less-classy cheap marketing gimmicks – because we try to create new points of entry that will help lower the barrier, and not every classical music novice has a workaholic twittery girlfriend to make it sweeter going down. I’ve learned how to unbend and make time for wine-tasting, superhero movies and Warehouse 13, and Raul meets me halfway by trying some of the wacky contemporary music I drag him along to. Sometimes he stays home, or travels to visit family, and then inflatable Dudamel keeps me company. Look for him if you’re ever in San Francisco.