Everyone, it seems, finds something mystifying in the world of classical music.
One common puzzle: "What's the difference between an orchestra and a philharmonic?"
Conductor and professor Paul Ferington, who frequently leads the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, can answer that. These days, the maestro explains, there's not a whole lot of difference. But there used to be.
"When orchestras were formed, the name was based on the size of the city," he says. "So the philharmonics, like the New York Philharmonic and the Buffalo Philharmonic, tended to belong to larger cities. Orchestras were smaller."
Now, he adds, high-power groups like the Cleveland Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra show that the terms have come to mean the same thing. "But at the time, New York City and Buffalo were bigger cities."
There. Doesn't it feel good to have that settled?
Ferington loves the idea of answering people's musical questions, helping them get close to classical music. That's why he has donated his time to teach "Symphony 101," a free-wheeling music-appreciation course for adults.
The sessions, each 90 minutes long including a question-and-answer session, are scheduled for four Wednesday evenings in Livingston Hall, a cozy space in Kleinhans Music Hall adjoining the main stage. Already, several dozen people have signed up. "If we have to move more chairs in, we will," Ferington beams.
Ferington, who heads the music department at Niagara County Community College, is known for his knowledge, musicianship and exacting standards. But he's also known for his sense of humor, and he's looking forward to this series as a way to kick back and entertain as well as teach.
All four classes bear intriguing titles. Wednesday's class is "The Time Periods of Music." A kind of trip back in time, it will clear up confusion over the Baroque, Classical Romantic, Impressionist, Nationalist and Contemporary eras.
"We're going to use artwork, too," Ferington promises. "And Power Point."
Oct. 26 will bring "The Orchestra Families," introducing the audience to the different groups of instruments.
Things get especially interesting on Nov. 9, with "The Conductor's Job -- How Easy Is This?" In this class, students will actually get to conduct.
"They're going to be learning 4/4 , 3/4 and 6/8 ," Ferington laughs. "I have recorded music for all of those meters. I'm going to have people stand up and wave their arms. It's the funniest thing to see. They'll have to walk and chew gum at the same time."
And on Nov. 30, the series winds up with "Understanding Symphonic Forms," which will unlock the mysteries of suites, concertos, symphonies and tone poems.
Ferington hopes his classes will help people appreciate the beauty of classical music, instead of being afraid of it.
"The series is supposed to provide audience members with a more in-depth knowledge," he says. "To allow folks to enjoy going to BPO concerts, listening to WNED-FM. People who say, 'Gee, I've always wondered about these questions. What's the difference between Impressionism and the Classical era?' We're going to broaden listeners' appreciation of music so they'll understand it better."
Ferington is encouraged by the response so far.
"Adults really have always had an interest in classical music, but are afraid to want to learn more about it," he says. "I'm hoping we can reach some new people, help them to know that this is not painful." He laughs.
"If you come to a class like this, you will really feel a part of it," he says. "When we get older, as adults, we tend to look for, and need, classical music. We need that peace. We need that depth."
"Symphony 101" takes place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, Nov. 9 and Nov. 30 at Kleinhans Music Hall. Admission is $60 for the series or $20 for an individual session. For information, call 885-0331, Ext. 412.