In the early 1990s, keen to devour everything, I loved going to opera with a music critic friend. We took in, among others, Britten’s Billy Budd at Glyndebourne, Gawain by Birtwistle at the Royal Opera House and, most memorably, an English National Opera production of Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges that came with “scratch and sniff” cards.

On the latter occasion we were running late, and decided to finish our takeaway dinner in the auditorium. The people sitting near us rightly suggested that our egg fried rice was not part of the “sniff” element of the production.

Yet somehow, at some point, all my opera-going stopped. It happened, I think, by accident. I also bypassed all the rest of what used to be called “high culture”, attending classical concerts about once a decade, never ballet. What started as a childhood lack of exposure (clumsy, left-handed, no musical aptitude) hardened in adulthood into avoidance.

Plus, I love my cultural comfort zone. I’m confident there. The buzziest novel of the moment? Nathan Hill’s doorstopper, Wellness. I’ve read it and have an opinion (very favourable). I strive to stay relevant: The Last Dinner Party’s “Nothing Matters” is a near-perfect pop song. My job at the FT is hosting a podcast (of course!).

At the start of this year, though, I felt a strong urge to embrace everything I’d normally reject. I have no idea why: perhaps it was the “serious person” gene finally kicking in. Whatever. All I knew was that I craved new experiences.

But making a new start on hard things is not what we associate with later middle age, a time of all-round competence, career peaks — and complacence. We (or our PAs) have organised our lives down to the last 15-minute calendar slot. We have our families, careers, passions. There is no time for the new. And it’s scary to be a know-nothing when your entire professional life and identity is based on having credibility through knowledge and expertise.

Having been persuaded that La bohème at the Royal Opera House would be a good place to start, I walked into a fantastical world of peerless people-watching: Instagramming tourists, jewel-bedecked women, and David Mellor (look him up, kids). That was before the show started.

After the curtain went up, my fears of not “getting” the opera — or just straight-up boredom — were replaced by a beyond-words immersion that required no previous experience. La bohème zipped along, more emotionally engaging than the many overpriced and worthy plays I’ve dutifully sat through in recent years.

The “sensory overload” from the orchestra and singers also reminded me of the better gong baths I’ve attended. (Yes, really.) For the uninitiated, these yoga-adjacent events are performed in total stillness: participants lie down and absorb the rolling soundscapes created by a skilled practitioner playing gongs, bowls and pipes. It sends you into a kind of delicious trance.

Next, a live stream of the Royal Ballet’s Manon, beamed into cinemas. Again, I was adrift artistically, but happily overwhelmed by the extraordinary beauty of the sets and the dancers’ stamina. The plot was quite mad. Beyond that? I don’t have the cultural vocabulary — but would certainly go again.

These first weeks of exploration were topped off with the London Symphony Orchestra’s Barbican performance of Bruckner’s 9th Symphony, together with his Te Deum, conducted by Nathalie Stutzmann. My expert companion that night talked about the comfort of seeing a musical work you’ve known and loved for years — the beauty of each interpretation, the small details that you notice anew.

Hearing that, I felt not insecurity — that’s been displaced by the simple enjoyment I feel during these performances — but sorrow. I could have spent time, over these past 30 years, building my own store of memories and learning to follow these scores as old friends.

I was transported by Bruckner — crashing, booming, magnificent — and read the programme notes, repeatedly. But I have no wider frame of reference for the music. It stands in isolation, for the moment.

Later, I realised that I do know that feeling of familiarity and timeless connection, but through pop music. At a Suede gig a couple of months ago, decades collapsed as the solidly Gen X crowd joined lead singer Brett Anderson (56) to belt out the drug-infused lyrics of our distant youth: “So young and so gone . . . ” It was almost unbearably bittersweet.

Classical music, though, is a foreign language. Currently, my progress feels rather like the excitement when you hit a one-month streak on Duolingo: it’s a start.

Next up: jazz. I’ve avoided it since an unfortunate incident at Vortex Jazz Club many years ago. Please make suggestions for a novice. No experimental jazz: I find that triggering.

Isabel Berwick hosts the FT’s Working It podcast and is author of the forthcoming ‘The Future-Proof Career’

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