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Uses, misuses and abuses of music: John Varineau at the January Series

John Varineau, associate conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony, showed the January Series audience the differences between uses, misuses and abuses of music on Thursday, January 5.
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Associate conductor John Varineau of the Grand Rapids Symphony demonstrated to the audience "The Uses, Misuses and Abuses of Music" this past Thursday at the January Series of Calvin College.

After opening performance with Mozart's first movement, Varineau said, "some people from my generation will also recognize this as the piece that Winchester was trying to teach a group Korean musicians in the last episode of M.A.S.H. I'm sure that if Mozart were alive, he would have approved. He probably would be working in movies or television anyway, because that's where the money is."

Varineau described music as, "incredibly fluid," and that it can "morph easily between uses." He prescribed the use of music as misuse or abuse when, "we don't let it move us, it moves us in the wrong direction, and/or when we reduce the complexity of music to small pieces."

Varineau presented his material in a way so that even the most casual of audiences could understand his concepts. 

He considered Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture as, "one of [his] favorite misuses of music." The quintet then played a small portion of the piece, followed by Varineau's comment that, "we love that music....and we especially love it on July 4th. What [the] French dying at the hands of the Russian army has to do with our own revolution, I'm not quite so sure."

Varineau continued to summarize simple ideas about the use of music, followed by a live musical example of the idea. He concluded by offering a more complete analysis of the idea that incorporated the musical example.

Led by Varineau's clarinet, the presentation included Grand Rapids Symphony's own Eric Tanner on first violin, Steven Brook on second violin, Leslie Van Becker on viola, and Alicia Eppinga on cello.

The quintet played many familiar excerpts ranging from Beethoven's Fifth to a score from the 1984 film The Terminator. The brief musical performances offered Varineau's weighty subject matter something to lean on.

As the conductor of several local concert series such as the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series and Fox Motor's Pop Series, Varineau also volunteers his time conducting educational concerts around the Grand Rapids area. His January Series presentation blended academic theory with the practice of performing classical music.

Varineau's "The Uses, Misuses, and Abuses of Music" will also provide an interesting foundation to the Grand Rapids Symphony's upcoming concert Cinematic Shostakovich by exploring the use of Dmitri Shostakovich's music in the propaganda film The Battleship Potemkin by Sergie Eisenstein. The concert takes place on January 6th and 7th at the Devos Performance Hall.

Varineau will conduct the concert as well as incorporate the ideas from his presentation into his performance. Interested audiences should visit the Grand Rapids Symphony's website for more details on the upcoming concert.

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