Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Classical appreciation classes open new doors, and ears

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Every day I realize how lucky I was to grow up in a musical family. Although my parents weren't musicians, they loved classical music and it was always playing in our home. My aunt was a violinist in the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and my brother was constantly practising clarinet or bassoon around the house. I was given recorder, piano and flute lessons.

And while my flute lies gathering dust on the (matching) piano these days, I still reap the joy that classical music brings -- just from listening. It lifts my spirits when I'm down, it grounds me when things get hectic at work, and it brings tears to my eyes at unexpected moments from its sheer beauty. I can't imagine life without it.

Other musical genres touch me too, but in a different way. When it comes right down to it, it's classical that feels like home, and always will.

So I always feel a little sad when I realize that many people feel that classical listening is beyond them, that they don't understand it and can't appreciate it. It is a world untouched for them and I feel it's a shame.

I was pleased last week to sit down with someone in Winnipeg who's doing something about this. Don Anderson calls himself a "classical music resource," but he is much more than that. Over the past decade, he has taught over 30 music-appreciation courses to Winnipeg adults, choosing subjects that interest him, "and that I hope will interest students too," he says in an interview. "I always ask at the end of each course: What do you want me to do that I haven't done yet?"

That actually may be a tough question to answer, looking over the extensive list of topics Anderson has covered. They include orchestral music and great composers, Beethoven's world, instruments of the orchestra, Grieg and Sibelius, opera 101, and great conductors, to name but a few. He is just completing a course on Canadian pianist and broadcaster Glenn Gould.

Starting next week, Anderson will embark on his latest class, legendary musicians, which will follow the performances, lives and times of renowned violinist Jascha Heifetz, Russian cellist/conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Anderson, 61, selected these artists because he feels a connection to them. "Rostropovich signed an album for me," he says, "and I used to watch Bernstein's Young People's Concerts on TV. I have a cellist friend who plays with the Chicago Symphony and I've heard them many times in person."

Anderson spends a great deal of time preparing for each course and offers personal interest stories about the musicians or composers. "It makes classical music more personal," he says. "It comes down to earth. The gap between the audience and the stage gets smaller."

An interest in music is the only requirement for would-be students; no prior knowledge is needed.

Anderson came to classical music as an adult and "by a different route," he admits. "I always loved movies and it gradually began to dawn on me that I was enjoying the music. I especially liked the music in Spartacus, so I looked it up and found out it was Alexander Nevsky by Prokofiev and took it out of the library."

This was the beginning of an astounding musical career. Anderson pursued his interest whole-heartedly, becoming an expert in all things classical music. He studied piano and theory privately and worked in the old Opus 69 music store for 10 years.

Anderson found himself writing concert and recording reviews for the Free Press, writing program notes for the WSO and producing, writing and contributing to a number of CBC Radio shows for many years.

Legendary Musicians runs for six weeks at the Millennium Library at a cost of $90, day or evening: Tuesdays, Nov. 6-Dec. 11 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or Mondays, Nov. 5-Dec. 10 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Register at the Manitoba Conservatory of Music & Arts at 204-943-6090 or email

You can read more about Anderson at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 31, 2012 D4

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