Growing up on a dairy farm in central Pennsylvania, Linda Apple Monson was always drawn to music. After church service, the melodies still ringing in her head, Monson played by ear, plunking out the simple notes of hymns she had heard. She received her first upright piano for her sixth birthday, and since then has lived a life dedicated to making music.
Nearly five decades later, Monson, now 53 and a music professor and director of keyboard studies at George Mason University, is being honored with a $200,000 endowment in her name to provide scholarships for music students. A concert on Sept. 18 to launch the endowment will feature the works of Maurice Ravel, Aram Khachaturian and Franz Schubert. The program will also feature a collaborative piano piece with jazz trombonist Harry Watters, performing a new work by Don Bowyer.
Monson has taught and performed in the United States, Central America, Europe and Asia. She received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in music from the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. She was selected for the 2007 Fulbright Senior Specialist program, which awards grants for collaborative projects in 100 countries. In 2009, she received the George Mason University teaching excellence award.
We talked to Monson about the importance of music education and the relevance of classical music today.
“I think everyone agrees music is valuable for the human soul. . . . Ultimately it boils down to this: Music creates beauty, music is about a deeper form of communication, and when children are exposed to music at an early age they learn all types of things in terms of discipline and in terms of how to think.
“We are constantly striving as musicians to be able to have that balance between the intellect and the emotion — because to connect with our audience we must play intelligently but we must play passionately, because that is what brings the music to life.
“So often students will come here to Mason and they already know they love music. They want this very desperately, but all kinds of things can get in the way of the joy of music making. Many times it’s fear — you know, that sense of stage fright. One can become paralyzed with the fear. And so one of the things that’s important as educators . . . is to help our students learn that there’s no shortcut for preparation. That means knowing the score inside out. That means understanding what’s appropriate interpretation within established guidelines. There are guidelines but then there are all sorts of creative liberty within that.
“It is empowering our students to be thoroughly prepared but then to let go and let the music happen. Music can do many things. I mean, sometimes music is angry, sometimes music is thoughtful, sometimes music is beautiful, sometimes music is very, very complex, and it takes every core of our being to try to understand what the composer is driving at.
“I do believe classical music will always survive and have a special place in our society. Granted, it sometimes seems like a special niche, rather than an art form that the masses appreciate and enjoy.
“At Mason, we have rigorous training in our School of Music in both classical and jazz styles. This training and grounding gives our students the technical, theoretical, historical, and intense musicianship skills to be not only fluent in their specific art form, but also to have the flexibility to cross over into other styles as well. It is vital that our students understand the importance of making the classical and jazz art forms more accessible and relevant to audiences.
“Having not only Bach, Mozart, Brahms, but also some music composed by a living composer helps to create a continuity for this living art form. Also, using visuals — videos, etc. — can help enhance the concert experience. Poetry or artwork incorporated into the concert can give an enhanced multi-dimensional or multi-sensory experience.
“Music gives us the opportunity to connect on all levels — intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually. What can be more fulfilling than this?”
Sept. 18 at 3 p.m., George Mason University Center for the Arts Concert Hall. $20. 888-945-2468. cfa.gmu.edu.