Often when I'm on a bad date — the type of encounter where the man I am sitting across from has no visible interests in the world or in me — I think of Siegfried's Funeral March by Richard Wagner. The intense opening; the strings pulling the life away from the gleaming stars, forcing the listener to be captivated with the idea of gloom. And then the drums, those signals of defeat — but then, the stirrings of passion! There is possibility for my own untouched palms, perhaps, even if not on this night.
It's easy to think of pop music as the soundtrack for a single person's life. We can recall Rihanna's voice serenading us in our car as we drive to yet another date, looking for love in a hopeless place. Even Coldplay, with their cartoonish riffs, can comfort us — but pop music can't speak to the ambiguities of our emotions the way that classical music can.
Imagine this: you're on a dinner date, and throughout dinner, the person with whom you are on a date is complimenting you, asking you questions about your career, your background, your feelings regarding post-impressionist art — and seems genuinely interested in all you have to say as you both slowly take your time eating the asparagus. At the same time, you find yourself wanting to know more about this person, so you ask similar questions, and the answers bounce off one another. A chemistry starts to develop.
Then after dinner, you both walk on the street, gingerly brushing your hands against one another's until he or she holds yours, and you find yourself at a coffee shop that is open late, and you order the sweetest drinks on the menu. The last barista is cleaning the counter, your knees touch, and you cannot help but begin to hope for a future with this person. Rihanna does not exist for you in that moment, and neither does Coldplay. Instead, the music that is following the rhythm of your seemingly ideal night is Franz Liszt's "Liberestraum" or "Love Dream."
There is a rhapsody in the way we love — and in the way we long for love. The clicking of glasses, the tapping of phones, the awkward goodbyes and hellos, the crunching of food, the anticipation of him or her returning from a restroom break, the lingering scent of his or her chosen fragrance. These all take on a certain immediacy when you are on a date: either positive or negative, based on your experiences. Classical music can provide you with a soundtrack that mirrors these strange and (often) wonderful sensations; classical music can heighten your experiences, and maybe even provide some inspiration as to how to proceed. Think of the stringed instruments, trumpets, and drums, not simply as elements of a composition, but as pulses of feelings.
Consider Gustav Holst's "Venus" from The Planets: The movement is the second in the entire suite, and is subtitled "Bringer of Peace" — one of the many powers of the Roman goddess of love. The French horn, the violin, and the oboe lyrically fall upon the ears. The entire movement is gentle, gliding the listener through the stars. Midway into the movement, bright and slight ruptures emerge and continue to undulate towards the end until the music carries the listener away. This piece can trace a date into moments of concern, delight, and reflective silence. You're starting to wonder, was this date a mistake? Then you are taken aback by a sudden tender brushing of feet, and Holst's ornamental color reaches your heart as you are seduced by uncertainty.
What does Miley Cyrus have to say about our love lives that Holst cannot? Miley can offer temporary relief by singing what we currently feel in a language we use in our ordinary lives, but Holst, Liszt, and Wagner can more deeply reflect the depths of our experiences. With classical music, you are the lead in your own life.
Next time you meet someone online or through a dating app, instead of pregaming with Top 40, try Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart. These composers will be your best dating friends. They will let you know what is up.
Nasir Sakandar is a writer living in Minneapolis.