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I guarantee you’ll sleep through tonight’s UNC Symphony Orchestra concert. No, we’re not playing Bach.

As part of the University’s 10x10 project, in which 10 new works are commissioned for 10 different UNC ensembles in — you guessed it — 10 years, Michael Gandolfi has written a symphonic work about the formation of dreams.

Using data from a machine that charted peoples’ brainwave patterns as they snoozed, Gandolfi’s “Of Angels and Neurones” mirrors the different nightly stages of sleep. The music flows from drifting off to dreaming to something called “sleep spindles” — high-amplitude waves that jerk the sleeper awake.

As a certifiable “orch dork” — I play flute and piccolo in the group — I’ve enjoyed learning the piece, especially as Gandolfi has been here to work on it with us this week. But the piece itself represents more to me than (20-something) minutes of notes.

It’s the future of classical music.

For all but a small group of my peers, classical music is something our grandparents listen to: old, slow, boring.

I already hear the protests. “But I’m a cultured Carolina student!” you say. “I enjoy Rachmaninoff! I saw the Nutcracker! I’m not like that!”

Yes, you are.

We may have our favorite tunes (Who doesn’t want Pachelbel’s Canon played at their wedding?), but by and large college students are not consumers of classical music. No composers won awards at this year’s VMAs (although I’m just sayin’ Mozart had one of the best requiems of all time!). Beethoven isn’t played at the Student Recreation Center.

The age of the industry worries people in the business: Who will buy opera tickets in 30 years if the median age of concert attendees is 48? It used to worry me, too, that every other ad in the N.C. Symphony playbill was for nursing homes.

But when I called Gandolfi to interview him about his sleep piece and the future of the industry, he posed an interesting question: “Is there ever a complaint that we don’t have 60- or 70-year-olds hanging out at pop concerts?” Well, huh.

It’s a stage-of-life thing, not a flaw in the business, he said. Young people just haven’t had the life experience to “get” classical music.

“It’s like seeing a new city for the first time,” he said. “It’s unfamiliar.”

And it makes sense: Pop, rap, rock ‘n’ roll — these genres are so ingrained in our ears that listening to the next top 20 song is comfortable, like we’ve already heard it before.

“Classical music is an acquired taste, so it takes time to become familiar with it,” he said. “Today’s 20-year-old might be interested in it at age 60.”

And to spark interest, Gandolfi said, people should approach the genre with an open mind.

“It’s a common misunderstanding that you have to understand classical music,” he said. “It’s not about understanding, it’s about appreciation.”

He finished by saying, “There will always be a population that enjoys classical music. If I’m wrong, it would have died a long time ago.”

It makes sense. Even if young people aren’t ready for Berlioz now, they may be in a few years — given the proper exposure. But only time will tell.

For now, I can just encourage students to come hear Gandolfi’s work tonight. It might not be the REM you’re used to, but you might like it.



Hannah Thurman is a junior journalism major from Raleigh. Contact Hannah at

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