Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch

Rudiments of Humanity

Air Date: December 20, 2022

Violinist Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch discusses her new book Declassified: A Low-Key Guide to the High-Strung World of Classical Music.


HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Heffner, your host on The Open Mind, and it’s a real privilege to introduce our guest today. She is Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch, a violinist, and an author of the new book “Declassified: A Low-Key Guide in the High-Strung World of Classical Music.” And she also has the distinct honor of being the daughter of one of most beloved teachers, English teachers, and teachers ever. Arianna, I’ve only heard the most wonderful things about you over the years, and…


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: Not from my mom, though, (laugh)!


HEFFNER: Yes, yes! From your mom, your mom! And it’s really a delight to connect with the next generation of your family. So thank you for being with me today in Europe where you are based.


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: Yes. Thank you so much for having me.


HEFFNER: When did you decide, Arianna, that you were ready to reflect on your vast and acclaimed musical career and write about it as opposed to continuing to perform?


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: Well, it’s interesting, you know, you mentioned my mom. So when I’ve been thinking about it recently, it seems really obvious that I would write a book like this. My mom’s an English teacher. She a writer as well. My dad’s a pianist, so it’s sort of, you know, the perfect culmination of the lessons they taught me. But it took me a really long time to get to this point where I felt like, where I considered writing this book. It sort of started, So I started writing more when I was still performing as a kind of foil for the performance life, the touring and everything. And it started with like, I got a horrible review once, and there was this awful critic in Montreal, and he said I was out of tune, which is like the worst thing you can ever say to a violinist. And I wrote, I got so mad, and I wrote this whole set of stories about his murder. So I wanted, I just wrote like, all of these musicians, like coming together. It was like “Murder on the Orient Express,” except much worse. And I also couldn’t kill him in the end because I guess I’m a really, really nice person, so I can’t actually murder someone even in fiction. But anyway, so I’ve been writing and I started writing some articles once in a while. And then, and I actually, after I stopped performing, I first wanted to do something that would be sort of loosely based on some of my experiences, but that wouldn’t be like a guidebook, and it would be totally fictitious and sort of sensationalized. And then I started thinking about why I wanted to write that book. And it, a lot of it was just that I wanted to give people a jumping off point to explore classical music. I wanted people who were curious about it to have somewhere, you know to be more excited, to have some little, like, insight into what it was like in the world. And also I wanted to frame my favorite pieces of music with emotional, you know, like some of my favorite music movies are maybe not accurate, but like the 1954 Rhapsody with Elizabeth Taylor, it doesn’t really reflect what conservatory life is like, but it sets up these amazing moments in music. So like, Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto, you have the, one of the romantic leads performing it when he’s going through this emotional agony. And it really lets you as a viewer and listener, sort of, it opens your mind to all of the amazing emotions that are already in the music, but that you sometimes feel like you can’t, you know, get to because in performance settings, it’s a little bit sterile sometimes. Anyway, so I thought of all of this, and I realized that actually writing a book like this, a guidebook with some context from my life, my experiences might be a much more direct way of going about all of this. So it did take some time, but it was also a really wonderful experience for me because I got to experience all of this music in a totally different way than I’d been experiencing it as a performer. So it was, it was therapeutic in a number of ways.


HEFFNER: And it’s therapeutic as a reader too in a really special kind of book. And I don’t think there’s anything of its kind really. Let me ask you from the outset, I know you were raised in a household of writers and musicians, but I’m wondering when you first listened to classical music, if you had to separate it from lyrics and you associated music with lyrics and words, and that’s what ostensibly informed the meaning. Or if it was almost first nature rather than second nature, that it would be instrumental as opposed to lyrical?


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: That’s really interesting. And I do think that probably it, my first experiences of music were without any kind of lyric or, you know, in the case of opera, then it was in German, which now I understand a bit, but I didn’t understand back then. So it really, it might as well have just been instrumental. I yeah, I think that it, that would’ve been my first association with just sounds, you know.

HEFFNER: Right. And of course, if we’re infants or babies listening, you know, it may be that it was instrumental or some lyrical, but the lyrical is on top of the instruments, even though we end up thinking more about the words once we can translate them in our mind, once we can understand what, what they mean. But I ask that question because it seems kind of like a decisive thing, a point of demarcation, a kind of deviation from those of us to maybe your and your mom’s horror and Vinny Monaco’s horror who taught me piano, you know, by a very loose thread, I should say, because we attended a school where in music, you, you had to learn piano at least for one trimester, which I did, you know, struggling through it. But I made it. But to your and maybe mom and Vinny’s horror, you know, my first exposure to music was jazz. And jazz will always sound different to me than classical music. And is that, and I’m just wondering for those who you’re trying to orient around this world and say, this can be accessible to you, even though you didn’t grow up with it, and it wasn’t innately in your blood, what’s the first thing to kind of share with them about your experience as a performer or as an analyst of classical music?


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: Well, I think, I mean, for me, the most important thing, message sort of for the person getting started with this music is that classical music isn’t a real thing. You know, this is my Chapter One. It’s not a real genre, it’s just a collection of hundreds of years of music. And it’s in all different styles with all different compositional mediums. You know, opera sounds totally different than solo piano music and music from the 1600s sounds totally different than music from the 1950s, from the, you know, contemporary period. So it really, I mean, if you like jazz, there is a lot of music that’s quite jazzy that’s influenced by jazz. You have the, like, Ravel uses so much jazz harmony and Rachmaninoff as well. And then when you get later, then it also, the lines become blurred. And now there are composers who sort of do this sort of cross genre, you know, they use all different sounds but it’s still classical music. And so I think it would be important for people to get past whatever their, you know, those clips that they’ve heard and all of these movies, the music, the, of all these Four Seasons. I mean, it’s great. If you like those, great. But if you don’t, then don’t stop, because there’s really so much more there. And I really, and even, you know, there’s music that some traditional classical music lovers don’t like, but I think that other people could find completely exciting. And maybe that’s the only classical music they’ll like from, from the later periods that, that some traditionalists find challenging, or so I think it’s just, I want people to recognize that it’s not a monolith, that it’s not one entity, that there’s a lot to be explored. And I think the best of it is just, I can’t imagine my life without it, but I can’t imagine any life without it, you know, it’s so eloquent. And it can be, it depends on the, and depends on your mood and what you’re going through. I mean, when I was pregnant, I loved Mahler. Now I don’t. I, you know, before or after, I don’t really like Mahler. It depends on where you are. And, I just don’t want people to write it off because…


HEFFNER: Yes, yes, definitely not. And I would hear you out that the foundation of all music is ultimately classical. I mean, as being kind of the most, the earliest genre, for most of us, or, you know, historically speaking, you can find the rudiments, the roots of, in any genre, whether it’s pop or jazz, you’ll find the history of classical that animates it, even if you can’t hear it. And that’s, I mean, that’s the historical point you’re, you’re making. But what about the kind of raw classical, when you, you know, you refer to a high-strung, and admittedly sometimes heuristic and sometimes pretentious culture. You’re not denying that in the book. You’re understanding what people’s stereotype is and, you know, to the extent that it might be accurate.


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: Yeah. Well, it’s, so it’s both. So I think that on the one hand, it’s not all there is to the industry. I want to be, you know, one of my inspirations in writing this is that I have so many colleagues who are doing such exciting, innovative things that are not what your average, like outsider would expect. It’s just that the only people who know about these innovations are the people who are already following their careers. So if you’re not looking for this, for these artists, then you don’t really know what’s happening. So first of all, it is different, I think, in, in certain respects than people would expect. But, but very much I understand. I mean, I also feel like I suffered, and so many people I know have suffered for some of the stuffiness. There’s, there’s not always a lot of air to breathe. There’s a lot of, it’s not everywhere, but there are definitely places. You know, I remember I was at the Berlin Phil listening to a concert, and this inspired one section. So I have a section on etiquette and like when to clap and when to be a dick about other people not knowing when to clap. And that whole thing was inspired by this experience I had at a Berlin Phil concert. I was there with my now husband, and we were sitting next to two people on a date, I think. And the woman, for whatever reason, was so upset whenever anyone clapped when they weren’t supposed to. And people weren’t clapping in a way that was disruptive to the music. It’s just, you know, the way that certain pieces are structured, sometimes there are these pauses, like between movements, when you’re technically not supposed to clap, but it doesn’t hurt anyone if you do. And sometimes it feels like you want to. So there were portions of the audience who were applauding in between movements before the end of the piece, and she was like yelling at everyone saying like, no, no, no. What are they doing? Shouldn’t be. And it was so, and I was having so much trouble sitting next to her because I just felt like, what is wrong with you? Like, people like it, they’re excited. And as a performer, I know this doesn’t bother us at all. We, we like to be clapped for so (laughs), so, you know, if you don’t know where to clap, like, that’s fine. I mean, the book helps with that to explain it, but I just feel like there are certainly audience members who could be doing a better job of being welcoming. And there, yeah, there have been a lot of instances in my career and everyone’s career, and in recent, and especially like less recent history that have sent the message I think that not everyone’s welcome. And I don’t think that that’s correct it’s certainly…


HEFFNER: Well, this, this is how you warmly welcome people, and I think it’s just a delightful prose to the genre, which you correct is not a genre, right. That we’ve already established that. And you do, in the book, you write, “I was surrounded by this music from the very beginning, and some of you I know are already concluding. That’s why I love it. You’re thinking to yourselves that classical music is an acquired taste, like caviar. But you’re wrong. First off, caviar is disgusting.” I’ve been trying to, sorry, I’m getting so animated, just reliving this prose, “I’ve been trying to force my palette to tolerate it for well over a decade, because I’ve always seen myself in my mind’s eye as the kind of suave, sophisticated person who eats that stuff.” You say the stuff, Well I said that stuff, “but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s revolting. It tastes like fishy, snot blisters that explode onto your tongue when you bite into them. Classical music doesn’t.” Well, first off, you know, the talent of writing is in the family too. And, and that’s just mesmerizingly the visual.


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: (laugh). Graphic.


HEFFNER: And, and, and you’re, and you’re telling, you’re relating to people, you know, about acquired tastes. I mean, there’s some acquired taste that you acquire in kind of principle and then in practice. But sometimes you don’t agree with the principle that something is good. So when you’re trying to declassify it, it’s clearer from your writing that you’re sanitizing it. But what elements do you want to classify, to declassify, for your peers in the profession or aspiring artists more broadly? What are you trying to declassify for the person who will listen to music and you just want them to have some appreciation of the classical identity of some of its origin?

WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: Well, in terms of, So I, the reason I love this title is because the “Declassify” works on multiple levels.


HEFFNER: Absolutely.


WARSAW -FAN RAUCH: We have the declassifying. So in terms of explicating and making known to people, then I want to, I want to show people, as you say, the more human side of the industry. I think that musicians are both more normal and much weirder than people think. So that you see some of that. And I, you know, I want to sort of unveil the, it’s sort of shrouded this whole, you know, the whole genre, the whole industry. I think a lot of people don’t really know what goes on behind the Julliard doors. So there’s some of this but I also want to then, you know, de class. So, so the fact that classical music is classed together, right? As we discussed, it’s not, so I go through the different compositional periods, which it’s not a perfect way of showing the breadth of the genre, because of course, every composer is also different. But there are these seven main compositional periods that very clearly are based around styles. And of course, it’s like an evolution. So towards the end of one period, then it sounds similar to the beginning of the next, but if you look at the middle of each period, and in the playlist that I have, you can go through and you could do that. Then you really hear the differences, so that it’s not one, it shouldn’t, it’s not one classification, it, or it doesn’t belong in one classification. It’s a bunch of different pieces. And then of course you have the, like, the class, the, that classical music is seen as like a sort of upper-class entertainment form. And it shouldn’t be. And the composers, you know, while, and I also go into the history of snobbery and classical music, while there have always been, or not, I don’t know about always, but certainly from the time of Bach and Mozart, there were patrons who we can call snobs in this case. I mean, they had tons of money and they, they employed these composers, but the composers themselves sometimes hated them, and they certainly weren’t snobby. And, you know, I also go into Mozart, Mozart wrote filthy letters and poems about his bowel movements, they’re really creative. They’re like, not, it’s not just, it’s not just that they’re gross, they’re also like really hilarious. So I translate some of those. And that was also really fun to research by the way, just like reading his letters. It was completely appalling, but also wildly entertaining. And so, so it’s crazy. I mean, you think about Mozart as this like poster child for country club atmospheres, and then, and then you read his writing, his version of love letters, and it’s really like, it doesn’t gel. It’s not, not the same. You know, it doesn’t make sense to, to take his music and apply it strictly in this like, garden party high society way. It just,


HEFFNER: Arianna, what’s your, what’s your sense of, geographically where classical, the idea is, if not the genre, the idea of it and the history of it is still relevant. You’re coming to us from Europe where you live with your family, but you also studied in the United States and, and lived here for a time. But what’s your sense of where this music is relevant still and where it’s not?


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: I mean, I think honestly, and I, I don’t just say this because I’m trying to sell it (laugh), I really think it’s relevant everywhere. I think that it, it’s, it’s not…


HEFFNER: I know you think it’s relevant everywhere, but I mean, where you think it, where you have concluded based on your, not just the reception to the book, but performances over the years where you’re like, people just don’t get it. They don’t want it. They don’t need it. You’re saying let’s declassify it. So they do want it. And they need it. it’s relevant. But where, are there places or people you prefer whom you’ve concluded? They don’t view it as relevant? That was my question.


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: Yeah. I mean, I think that this is, of the places that I’ve performed in and lived in, I would say that by far the worst is the United States. It’s like, no, no, really, I mean, so


HEFFNER: No, I agree. I’m a testament to that, I suppose.


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: No, no, no. I just think, I mean, part of it is that the industry hasn’t been as competitive as it needed to be, right? There are so many forms of entertainment. In the States. We’re all about immediate gratification. You know, we don’t have this, like in Germany, you have these bleak winters. People don’t really heat their houses properly. We don’t have like, air conditioning in the summer. So you’re more about this, like, you want a certain amount of hardship here, and you’re willing to go a little bit deeper, I think, in Germany for, you know, they don’t make things easy for you. Like recycling is really hard here. They don’t, it’s not, it’s not unusual for people to have to invest in things. And I think with classical music, you do have to be willing to invest a certain amount just in terms of, unless you, unless you get lucky and you happen to find that piece that you love right off the bat, you know, it is a lot of music to sort through. And the pieces are longer. Pop songs, you know, you listen to it for three minutes and you’ve heard the, the main hook like five times by the end. So you already have all the pieces in your mind, and you can go away humming it. And with classical music, it, it’s more of a, it’s a longer meal, you know, you have to digest it. And, and people aren’t always willing to do that. And that’s that. I understand that because I have that too. I’m also American, and I complain about the fact that we don’t have air conditioning in Germany and all of this stuff. But yeah, when I’ve been to east, so I remember in Japan, I was there and for one of these concerts that I played with in orchestra, the line was wrapped around the whole hall, like four hours before the doors opened. I mean, it’s just crazy. And I felt like in that performance at the end, I remember just how sort of hungry the audience seemed, You know, at the end they were just like, people were sobbing openly. They were, they were, they were all, you know, it was all standing ovation, but it was very emotional and it felt like there was really something that, you know, they’d really given themselves as much to the performance as the performance had given to it. And in Germany, because it’s part of the history, I think people are really, they feel entitled to it. I also remember my husband, so he’s a lawyer. He’s not an all musical. He can’t sing to save his life. And he was studying for his law exams when we started dating. And I remember he told me he was going to some concert, like I was on tour and time difference anyway, he said, oh, I won’t be back until like two in the morning. So I just assumed that it was like a rock concert or some like, outdoor, you know. It was an unstaged Wagner opera, Like no costumes, no, like no acting. It was just five or six hours of music that he just sat through. And, and, you know, as a young person in this, I can’t imagine this, I mean, I wouldn’t, I couldn’t do this either. I also don’t like Wagner for lots of reasons, but yeah.


HEFFNER: Understandable reasons.


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: Yeah. But in Germany, there’s just, again, it’s like a part of the culture. So even if you weren’t raised with it, you feel like if you want to go to a classical concert, you have every right to do that. And it doesn’t matter what you know about it.


HEFFNER: I hear when modern artists or artists of the eighties or nineties or whatever decade you like to, you know, listen to, you kind of go back in time and, you can work backwards like that and take something like a, a track from Stevie Wonder, and, you know, and then suddenly it’s Stevie Wonder, but it’s classical, you know, it has sort of the, more of the ingredients you would associate with classical music and then it feels like normal. That’s Stevie Wonder. It doesn’t matter what instrument he’s playing or whether it sounds jazzy or classical, that’s, you know? So at least that’s my trick. I don’t know what you’re doing with your, with your kids. Maybe they’re on a classical diet. What’s, what’s, what are you listening to and what are your kids listening to these days?


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: They’re young, but it’s important.


HEFFNER: They’re young, right?


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: Yeah, no, they listen to everything. I mean, I also listened to jazz growing up. It wasn’t just classical. Yeah.


HEFFNER: You said Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong, what…


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: Yeah. And because my mom, Joan Baez also so… But here we listen to, you know, it’s, we’re getting to the holiday season, so there will be a lot of, like, there will be some Bule holiday albums, some Ella Fitzgerald holiday. They do like, they like beats a lot, so we listen to, you know, songs like “Uptown Funk” and some like, like “Shake It Off” is a big favorite. They really like, they also really like, they have their favorite, you know, we have a playlist and they have the songs they like. They like “Psycho Killer” (laugh), and we just listen to the songs that they like, The Beach Boys, “Fun, Fun, Fun” because it has the word “car” in it. And our two-year-old, like, is obsessed with cars. So he calls it the car song. A lot of different…


HEFFNER: So you’re doing a lot of, you’re declassifying at every level from the two-year-old to the, you know, to any reader of your book. It really is a special kind of book and a special subject that even if you are not, I mean, in fact, I think it would appeal to everyone, maybe even non-classical music people because it’s, more so than classical music people. I mean, just really the way that you’ve expansively illuminated this subject. I think it has such vast appeal. And it’s so well written.




HEFFNER: And, and I just want to thank you, Arianna, for your time, and hope that at some point, not only will we meet, meet in person, but your reputation precedes you, not just as a writer, but as an artist and a performer. Thank you, Arianna, really appreciate your time and your insight today.


WARSAW-FAN RAUCH: Thank you so much for having me.


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