What Makes a Classic?

Composer Scott Joplin (1867-1917)

Long before I had any direct encounters with peoples of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, music was my doorway to worlds otherwise hidden from me. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, one of my earliest and most memorable “graced encounters across the color line” came to me at the piano,  learning to play a piece by ragtime composer Scott Joplin, and then performing the piece for others at a recital. Reflecting back on that experience, I have often wondered: What is it in great music, poetry or art that is able to resonate in human beings across great boundaries of time, distance and culture?

In this short video – my first (and maybe last!) impromptu attempt to record myself on YouTube – I play the first part of Joplin’s beautifully plaintive serenade “Solace,” and discuss it alongside theologian David Tracy’s notion of a “classic.” Tracy provides a compelling theoretical framework for helping us understand why and how it is possible to cross over great distances of time, race, geography, and culture, and, by entering body and soul into a work of art, to feel our common humanity.

(I trust readers will pardon my decidedly unpolished skills with a web-camera!)


p.s. Is there a work of art, music, film, or literature that has had a similar impact on you? I’d love to hear about it below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *