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How Classical Music Can Help You Hear the Open Road

I wanted to pick a piece of music that would relate to driving, to speed and skill. The Sibelius concerto has such a strong sense of motion with the ostinato, that repeated motif in the orchestra — almost like telephone poles against which you can measure the speed of the soloist.

It’s kind of an aural analogue to what they call optic flow. Like if you’re driving in a tunnel with lights — or, as you say, on a road with regularly spaced poles — you get this very palpable sense of the world coming at you in a flow. Psychologists tell us that the sensation of speed is enhanced by that optic flow, especially if it’s a closed-in feeling, where those features are really narrow. With this piece of music you replicate that.

The violin soloist does these loops against that recurrent pattern, sparking some of the joy that comes through in your writing about driving. It has to do with speed and skill and maybe also with how speed highlights skill. It just feels more risky. One misstep, and disaster.

I also thought the piece had quite a playful quality to it — like the best roads. I ended up with this very concrete visual imaging that accompanied the music. For me, the opening low strings and timpani conjured the thrum of tires on the road, which especially in an older car is this rhythmic background. And then you have that ascending violin line that kind of felt like speeding up. You feel something building.

The first time the solo violin comes in, it repeats the phrase note for note. And then it starts going up and there is that

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