This year, we saw the most exciting and surprising Classical Countdown in history. Everyone knows that it is either Beethoven's 9th or Dvořák's 9th that is crowned victorious come 8PM on Thanksgiving night. Unbeknownst to most of our listeners, there was a grass-roots campaign happening leading up to voting time for Classical Countdown. A local Music Appreciation class from Oakcrest School in Vienna, VA, led by the passionate teacher Alix Baldwin, decided to give Vivaldi's The Four Seasons a chance to be crowned No. 1 this year, as it rightfully deserved. Ms. Baldwin tells us the story of the unlikely win, and shows us the power of passion and classical music in young people's lives.
At Oakcrest School in Vienna, VA, each grade has a special theme for the year; Seventh graders learn how to be a ‘Friend for Others’, Freshman look at Life as an ‘Heroic Journey’. Sophomore year, however, is my favorite, when the special focus for each student is to become ‘A Lover of Beauty and Goodness’. The entire Sophomore class (split into smaller groups) takes a semester of Music Appreciation and a semester of Art Appreciation as part of their class experience, and I’m one of the luckiest teachers around because I get to teach one of the Music Appreciation sections. One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is that your job is to share the subject you love; having an entire semester to share the music I love with students, and to see them develop an appreciation for it too (or, in many cases, see an already well-developed love already present) is not only fulfilling, but incredibly fun!
It can also be surprising. Of course, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a teenage girl in possession of a radio must be in want of some Tchaikovsky, but often (at least in my class) Rachmaninoff is the Romantic composer students rave about. I’ve had dedicated Wagnerians (and those who were decidedly not), devoted disciples of Mozart, and one student who developed a great love for Satie (‘He helps me THINK, Mrs. Baldwin.’). We are absolutely covered up with balletomanes, but we have our Italian opera lovers, too. One student declared her love for the Baroque era had begun when she stumbled upon a YouTube playlist titled ‘Music to Study Socrates by When You’re Being Socratic’ (I’m almost sure that was the name). My current class has a great love for the Baroque era in general, from the delightful text painting in Handel’s oratorios (‘I can hear the frogs jumping!’), to the exquisite intricacies of J. S. Bach’s preludes and fugues, to the luminous adagio of Corelli’s Christmas concerto. But there is one composer of the Baroque era that they liked best of all, and that’s where things got interesting.
When I was very young and we moved to the DC area, my mother turned on Classical Radio in our house… and never turned it off. It was the soundtrack of all our days and runs sweetly through my memories of growing up. Of course, we listened to the Classical Countdown every year! It’s a part of all my very best Thanksgiving remembrances. I couldn’t wait to share it with the girls. We had just finished talking about the Baroque era, and they had watched, transfixed, through a particularly lovely performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. His masterful musical depictions of the howling storms of Winter, the joyful birds of Spring, the enervating heat of Summer, with its mournful cuckoo, and the rejoicings of Autumn, each in their turn, were compelling to the class. When we had finished, I told them about the Classical Countdown (voting had just begun) and how they could vote for their favorite works and listen to them being counted down over Thanksgiving Break.
“Of course, Beethoven’s 9th wins every year,” I told them. “But… what if it didn’t?” They were immediately intrigued. Although my classes are generally excited to talk about music, this happens to be a particularly enthusiastic, even passionate, group. Almost instantly, they had taken up the idea that Vivaldi’s exclusion from the top spot was an insult that could not stand. They made plans to vote. They asked about a ‘Four Seasons Party’ if they were successful. I told them that if they managed to get it into the top three I would consider it an enormous success. Little did I know!
Thursday night, after dinner, my husband and I sat down to listen to the final of the Classical Countdown. I had noticed that we hadn’t had the Four Seasons, or ‘The Ninth’ yet, and things were getting close to the end. Had they, I wondered, managed to push the Vivaldi to number 2? But no! Because number 2 on the Classical Countdown was the Beethoven!
I was in shock. My husband looked over at me, astonished, “What did you DO?” I didn’t know what to think, and, of course, we had to wait about 80 minutes to find out! I posted about it on Facebook, where many of friends commented, similarly amazed… and then came the announcement, “This year’s Classical Countdown number one selection: The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi." We were stunned, exhilarated, finally hilarious. I wrote a quick email to the class congratulating them on their historic achievement. I asked my friends, ‘How do you host a Four Seasons party’? I wondered what this meant for future Classical Countdowns as there were already listeners on Twitter swearing to restore Beethoven’s 9th to the top spot after this outrage (to which I say, our sincere apologies! They love Beethoven too, but they followed their hearts out of love for il Prete Rosso. He had an all-girls orchestra, we’re an all-girls school… it just works). When I saw the students the next week, they were elated.
The whole event was a wonderful experience for them, especially after WETA offered to send out one of the hosts to talk to their class. I am sure they will always remember the year they ‘won’ the Classical Countdown, and I hope they’ll make it a part of their Thanksgiving tradition as it is part for so many of us. And who knows? I’ve already heard talk of a campaign for Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto, and I have several Samuel Barber devotees who think it’s about time his Adagio got its due. The only way to find out, of course, is to tune in next year for what will surely be the (second) most exciting Classical Countdown ever!
Find out why Vivaldi's The Four Seasons was deserving of the No. 1 spot this year!
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