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Violinist-turned-author loosens up a 'High-Strung World of Classical Music'

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Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch is the author of “Declassified: A Low-Key Guide to the High-Strung World of Classical Music.” She will be at Explore Booksellers on Monday at 4:30 p.m. to talk about the book with cellist Meta Weiss, her longtime collaborator and friend.

Before she was an author, Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch was a classical violinist.

She trained at The Julliard School, toured the world and performed at events such as La Jolla Summerfest and Aspen Music Festival.

But, as she writes in her new book, her perfectionism as a player interfered with her love of the music as a listener.

So, she left the world of symphony halls and wrote “Declassified: A Low-Key Guide to the High-Strung World of Classical Music.”

She hopes the book will help break down the walls around the genre and make everyone feel welcome to enjoy it.

Warsaw-Fan Rauch will swing by Explore Booksellers on Monday at 4:30 p.m. to talk about the book with cellist Meta Weiss, her longtime collaborator and friend.

There needs to be more emphasis on the humanity, and less on this idea of perfection and preservation and the sort of monolith that you put on a pedestal and museum and revere from afar. It's not what it is, and it's not how it should be treated.
Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch

Kaya Williams: I'm very curious: Have you ever during your music career thought about going in the direction of writing and authorship? Or did it only evolve, you know, after you left the traditional performance career path?

Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch: Yes and no. So I remember already, when I was at Juilliard, I was sort of thinking about, you know, how to bring classical music to a wider audience, how to show the more human side of the industry.

I grew pretty frustrated with my path as a violinist, I realized that it wasn't really making me happy to be serving music in this way. So that's how I ended up turning towards writing, which was something that I've always enjoyed and thought about, but just never really taken seriously as an option.

Williams: Did you find that writing this book changed your relationship with music or helped you see it in a different way than you had when you were a performer?

Warsaw-Fan Rauch: Oh, for sure. The beginning and end of each chapter is an installment of this sort of larger narrative arc that comes from my life, my training, my musical journey.

It begins before the violin when I was a listener, when I was just like, you know, a toddler, listening to my dad play the piano. And then as it goes through, it goes more into these — into the training, into the frustrations, and I really sort of detached from the initial reasons that I had started playing the violin in the first place, or that I had fallen in love with this music.

Getting away from the violin a bit and writing about music was tremendously therapeutic for me. It was really beautiful to discover or to think about this music from a different angle, and to experience it differently.

This also happened when I met my husband, because he's a lawyer. He’s not musical, but he is German, so he was raised with an appreciation of classical music, just not any technical knowledge in it. And that was really amazing to start listening to some of these pieces with him, because I could remember that it wasn't just a matter of technique or execution — that there were all of these facets to these pieces that I had lost sight of.

Williams: You note this in your book a little bit, that there is a reputation around classical music that it is stuffy and for snobs and for rich people. Do you think that some of this skepticism or apprehension is like a regional or a cultural thing, or is there something bigger that's holding people back from learning more about classical music?

Warsaw-Fan Rauch: No, I do think a lot of it is cultural. I think there are a number of different reasons for it, but I think that so much damage has been done by the film industry.

I love movies. I'm a huge movie person, but (in the) late '80s and '90s and early 2000s, they basically only used “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” and Vivaldi’s “Spring.” And these pieces were used in, like, every scene where there were snobs, and it's always to make you feel uncomfortable, and to make you feel how stuffy and elitist an environment is.

But I also think it's partly the way the (classical music) industry is built, and the fact that the offerings are sometimes a little bit intimidating.

There's actually so much going on now in the industry that's so fun, and so innovative and really accessible. But I think a lot of people don't know about it, because they just have written it off, based on these other stereotypes that had been promoted so much.

(In) Germany, I think, because it's a part of the history there, then even if you don't have specific exposure to it through specifically musical education, I think you do feel that you have a right to listen to it, you know. You feel like it's a part of where you come from.

In the (United) States, it's really sad, because I do think that a lot of people feel, like, excluded from it, and like it's not for them, like they don't have the necessary training or knowledge in order to partake of this art form. That is just such a shame. I hate that, and I wanted to fight against that, and that's a big part of why I wrote the book.

Williams: What do you think it will take to get to a point where people do feel like they have a right to listen and do feel like they're included in this very vast world of classical music?

Warsaw-Fan Rauch: The more people who are discussing it, the better. And one of the things I did want to highlight in my book is how many artists there are who are doing these cool things that I mentioned that are unexpected.

It's so easy to access this music now through social media. I know a lot of festivals that put on free concerts. It's just, again, if you don't know where to look, you might not think to find them wherever you live in your city, in your area.

I was just having a conversation at one of my author events in Cambridge (Massachusetts) with one of my old teachers. He was saying that there's so much more diversity now in the classes that are coming out, than there has been in the past, and it's so much better than he'd seen it.

I think this is a big step because, of course, you want to feel represented, you want to feel like there are people who look like you. And I think that this is one really important step. And there are already some amazing performers of color, but there needs to be more, and there are more coming.

As this happens, and as everyone in the industry strives to sort of be more welcoming, there are some audience members who I think could do a better job when they see someone who's there for the first time, or if there's someone who doesn't know the conventions, of just not making them feel shamed by their lack of knowledge.

If someone doesn't make a mistake, then that's also, you know, that's OK. And I think there needs to be for everyone's sake.

I say this as a former performer: There needs to be more air to breathe in the industry, so no one should be holding anyone to superhuman standards, where they're not allowed to breathe in a performance.

There needs to be more emphasis on the humanity and less on this idea of perfection and preservation and the sort of monolith that you put on a pedestal and museum and revere from afar. It's not what it is, and it's not how it should be treated.

If people give this repertoire the right kind of attention, you know, if they know that they're allowed to not like pieces or not like composers, and they look for the ones that they do like, and I feel like there's just so much that can enrich a person's life.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

This story has been updated to reflect a change in the time of an author talk at Explore Booksellers. It has been moved up to 4:30 p.m.

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Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.