Why do I play classical music?

 Emilee Graham (middle, red hair), bassist and champion, with the Palaver gang.

Emilee Graham (middle, red hair), bassist and champion, with the Palaver gang.

Normally the writing I like to do—outside of lots of English papers—is lists and questionnaires like: What’s your pet peeve? (when people walk really slowly in front of me and I can’t kindly get around them), What’s the best date you’ve ever been on? (Haha. You think I go on dates.) But every once in a while, I get a thought from someone or something I’ve heard that I have to chew on and write down, like this gem from the actor Tom Hiddleston:

Once* I heard Tom Hiddleston say that the reason he did Shakespeare was that it made him feel the most alive out of any scripts he ever read. And that struck me because, in an age in which half my friends are absolutely in love with classical music and the other half doesn’t think about it much, the relevance of classical music is something I think about. Why do I love it? Why do I play it? Why do I advocate for it?

My answer is the same at Tom Hiddleston’s. It makes me feel alive. When I feel like I have nothing, there is nothing more empowering than creating something. When I feel like I don’t have a voice, Tchaikovsky helps me find it. When I’m in my head, playing bass pulls me out of it.

As a kid, when I was upset or angry, I would get away from everything, pick up the bass, and play until I exhausted all my agitated energy. I remember my first music teacher saying that was a good sign, but I never got it until I was older. I never got it until I stopped playing bass for nearly a year after my sophomore year in college, and felt the source of all my creativity dry up.

However, that time, I’ll admit, was liberating. For the first time since I was 10, I wasn’t playing bass. I wasn’t having weekly lessons. I wasn’t having to practice a certain amount every day. But, at the same time, and, for the first time, I realized what it felt like not to be creative. The more that feeling sunk in, the more I felt how I needed that ability to express.

Then, one day, I had a gig for Palaver because we were coming back from our time off, re-invented and newly energized. I crawled back to the bass, and felt the awkward thing (really, his name is Pablo) in my hands after months of nothing. Now, I can’t imagine a week without Pablo and Palaver. I’ll never choose not to play the bass again. Even if I’m not the best or most professional musician, I won’t ever let it go again because it’s what makes me come alive.

And that’s the thing about creativity! You don’t have to be a professional, you just have to like it, and pick it again and again, and again and again. Never stop playing or drawing or dancing or wood carving or taking photos or acting because it’s a life source, and it’s like nothing else in this world.

Why do I love it? Why do I play in Palaver? Why do I advocate for classical music? IT MAKES ME COME ALIVE. And I love sharing that experience with others. So please, walk up to me and ask why I do what I do. Ask any of us. I bet we’d all say a very similar thing.

Emilee Graham


*Okay, it wasn’t once. I watched that interview (and him acting in Henry IV and V) a few dozen times because, come on, just look at him.