This week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued an order requiring people to stay home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. That means the majority of kids and adults are now at home and may be feeling a little bit restless.

One outlet for a lot of people is music, so now may be the perfect time to start expanding your musical horizons. In the first of a new OPB series, we’re going to speak with musically minded people around the region to discover new music and help you explore genres that might not be part of your regular cultural diet.

Suzanne Nance is the president and CEO of All Classical Portland and the host of Sunday Brunch.

A music lover from the start, Nance grew up singing along to everything from the Beatles to the Manhattan Transfer. But after deciding to study music in college, she quickly realized she needed to deepen her musical background: “When I showed up for my audition, they said ‘It has to be classical’” she said. “So there was a steep learning curve, as you might imagine, and I figured it out as fast as I could.”

Nance said she soon found herself falling in love with opera, orchestral music and chamber music. And it’s a journey she’s been on ever since.

The accessibility of classical music 

I think that classical music is changing really quickly. As a whole, the industry is becoming more innovative, more inclusive than ever. And quite frankly, we need to. We’re looking at ways to get out of the concert hall and into different spaces and bring music to people that otherwise they wouldn’t hear or seek out. It’s a great opportunity to say, ‘We as classical musicians and classical music enthusiasts, we just love good music.’ And whether it’s The Beatles or it’s Bach, if it’s good, it’s going to move our hearts and our souls.

Launching the International Children’s Arts Network 

After seeing a gap in resources available to parents and teachers, Nance helped create the International Children’s Arts Network in April of 2019.

We talked about the opportunity to break down cultural barriers [and] have moments that promote emotional literacy, like mindful moments for kids. We wanted to create a playground where kids would actually be the ones talking about the music and describing various adventurers and stories … speaking in different languages and delivering different poems. Something that was going to stimulate that creativity and also promote emotional literacy. 

Classical music for all ages

Nance brought us a wide array of classical music for listeners of all ages and experiences.

The Planets by British composer Gustav Holst is a really great place to start. Jupiter, which is subtitled The Bringer of Jollity, is a great piece to have kids listen to and create their own story to go along with the music. John Williams was also highly influenced by composers like Holst. So it’s a lot of fun to play the Star Wars theme next to [the piece] Mars. 

More classical music

  • Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”
  • Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite” narrated by Meryl Streep
  • Camille Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals”
  • Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” narrated by David Bowie
  • John Williams’ “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter

From The Beatles to Bach

Apparently, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were huge fans of Bach, and when Paul McCartney was writing Blackbird he was inspired by a piece titled Bourrée in E minor by Johann Sebastian Bach. He took some of that music incorporated into the bass line, and you can hear Bach’s influence on the Beatles in that piece Blackbird. It’s a lot of fun to hear the influences from music written 300 years ago.  

Also check out: 

  • Giacomo Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” from the opera Gianni Schicchi
  • Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune (Moonlight)”
  • Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5”
  • Leonard Bernstein’s “Mambo from West Side Story” played by the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel
  • The ensemble Time for Three (a self-described “classical-trained garage band”) 

New songs and old favorites

I always like to suggest that classical music lovers take a listen to the new interpretations of performances of pieces that maybe they’ve been enjoying for many, many years. [You could take] Bach’s Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1 and have some fun by listening to three different performances back to back for comparison. Nance suggests checking out versions by Yo Yo Ma, Jacqueline du Pré, and Pablo Casals. We also have great composers here in the Pacific Northwest, from Kenji Bunch to Bonnie Miksch, and Damien Geter. We think of classical music as being from the 16 or 17 hundreds. But actually, it’s right now and it’s living and breathing and expanding and evolving.

Listen to the full conversation by clicking play on the audio player at the top of this story.