October 14, 2010 | German

German Music Lessons

In which I go to Carnegie Hall.

Yesterday evening I attended a performance of Brahms’s A German Requiem at Carnegie Hall. Performing alongside the soloists was the Collegiate Chorale, of which my sister Rebecca is a member. It was beautiful.

This is not the first time she has coincidentally had a concert that involves singing in a language I happen to be studying. It is very convenient.

Carnegie Hall Is Prettier Without Scaffolding

Carnegie Hall Is Prettier Without Scaffolding

Rebecca is a native speaker of German, as I have mentioned previously. It is a funny thing to have a sister who is a native speaker of a language that I myself do not speak natively or even fluently.

Of course, we have our native English in common. Whereas all over this country and around the world, many husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, do not have a native language in common. They may be fluent in the same language(s), but that’s not the same thing as having spoken a language from birth, even though some people are able to get very, very close.

Back to music. Twice since I began this German review unit on October 1, I have been advised by Germans to learn German by listening to German music.

I find this a rather incredible suggestion. I am terrible at understanding lyrics in any language, including English. I think there was once a Saturday Night Live skit based on this idea, where a group of singers would really loudly sing the few words they could understand from a song, and then fake it loudly for the rest. Or am I imagining that?

Post-Concert Crowds

Post-Concert Crowds

In any case, you have to be quite good at a language to understand the words of a song. It is not surprising to me that the music-as-language-learning-tool recommendation is coming from Germans, who—in my experience at least—tend to learn languages very thoroughly.

If a German person says he speaks Spanish, he probably really does speak Spanish.

If an American says he speaks Spanish, it may be the case that he speaks it, or it may be the case that he has learned how to order nachos.

At the concert, some of the German was translated into English projected over the stage. I found myself involuntarily playing the Past Participle Game. 

After the Music Ends

After the Music Stops

You may not have heard of this game, as it does not have the illustrious history of, say, Chutes and Ladders, but it takes advantage of the fact that in German the past participle is deferred to the end of a clause.

At German Requiem pace, I am not adept enough to translate projected English sentences in their entirety before the German emerges from singers’ mouths, but the participle delay meant that I had a shot at guessing German participles before they actually got sung.

It was fun! After all, how often does one get to recover lost vocabulary and buttress irregular-verb skills while surrounded by beautiful music in Carnegie Hall? Thank you, Rebecca!

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