The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music gift ideas: Forget Black Friday hype, big store shopping and exaggerated consumerism. Give music lessons and tickets plus your companionship to a local live concert. | November 25, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

I am getting so tired of, and even angry with, the media hype and build-up around the next several days as a Shopping Utopia that you just must participate in if you don’t want to miss out on Great Buys and the American Way of Life.

It is ugly and crass consumerism at its worst – and this year some Big Box stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Macy’s even started it a day earlier, ruining some holiday cheer for a lot of workers and their families.

Today is Black Friday (below). Saturday is Small Business Day or Local Saturday. Monday is Cyber-Monday. What’s next?

How about Boycott Tuesday? Or  Spend Nothing Wednesday?

You’ll hear all about it, with lots of stats about people, sales and money plus the percentage increases or decreases form last year. And you will hear about it endlessly and everywhere, in the mainstream media and even in alternative media and on the Internet.

But not here. You don’t need me for that.

And I don’t want to encourage that kind of mass crassness.

But I do want to suggest some holiday gifts you would likely NOT find advertised on those namesake days.

They don’t concern such typical gifts as recordings and books.

I say here are two great holiday gifts to give for people.

First, give someone – a young person or an older person, it doesn’t matter – some music lessons.

Buy a month’s worth of something that seems to interest them, say singing or piano or violin lessons, and let them try out making music for themselves. Just look on the Internet and in the Yellow Pages for teachers. Or maybe ask around. Or consult as local music department of a university or conservatory.

In Madison, for example, you could consult the Madison Area Piano Teachers Association (MAPTA):

Or the Independent Strings Teachers of Madison:

You could also call the UW School of Music, Madison College (formerly Madison Area Technical College) or Edgewood College for advice. That’s what I did one year, and it worked out great.

This kind of gift works for any age, and some teachers specialize in adults or children. I think lessons make a perfect gift for someone about to retire (no, you are never too old to start) or for children whose school arts budgets are being cut.

And believe me, making music is exponentially better than just listening to it.

Second, I say give people the gift of a live concert coupled with your presence and companionship. Get two tickets and accompany someone somewhere. Music is a social event and communication, and nothing beats live music – especially in a city like Madison where so much classical music is accessible as well as free or very affordable.

If you heard the Madison Symphony Orchestra recently perform Ravel’s “La Valse” or, several seasons ago, “Bolero,” you know the excitement of live performance over canned recordings. Ditto for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s opening concert performance with Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Ditto for young violinist Caroline Goulding’s debut at the Wisconsin Union Theater. And ditto for the FREE Pro Arte Quartet Centennial Concerts and world premieres (below) at the UW School of Music, which offers some 300 free events a year, which will offer two more in March and April.

Music is meant to be a live experience, with both flaws and flights of inspiration and spontaneity.

I will have some more specific holiday gift suggestions, including CDs and books as well as concert tickets, as December wears on.

But in the meantime, please give these kinds of alternatives to commercialism some thought or consideration.

I bet a lot of people would be very grateful recipients.

Do you have some unusual gift ideas involving classical music?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music


  1. After the recent Presidio brass quintet concert at Middleton’s Performing Arts Center, the next day I sent an e-mail offering them a set of parts to Wayne Livingston’s “Suite for 5 Brass,” an unpublished work written as a master’s thesis at California State University-Fresno. I’ve been playing such chamber music for decades and this is one of the best I’ve ever come across.

    Comment by buppanasu — November 25, 2011 @ 11:06 am

  2. In the past, I have found inexpensive iPod Shuffles on eBay, then loaded them up with specific music for friends. For one friend who hated to fly, I filled it with her favorite chamber music. For another who had just embarked on a walking/fitness regimen, I compiled a playlist I called Baroque Aerobics…energetic baroque music that would help keep her moving.

    Comment by Cheryl Dring — November 25, 2011 @ 9:10 am

    • Cheryl,
      What a great idea — unique, original and personal.
      Your friends are lucky to have you not only to draw on your expertise with music but to fashion such a useful and unexpected gift.
      I wonder if other readers might do something similar.
      Happy holidays!

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 25, 2011 @ 9:19 am

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