You all know I’m a huge music nerd. I’m fairly sure I’ve been a lover of classical music since I was a baby and it’s only gotten worse. Some people tend to turn their noses up at it because they simply don’t know anything about it. Perhaps they’ve heard one of two pieces and developed an entire opinion based on that. I would say that, even worse, most people have attended a concert or two and been turned off by the air of condescension that tends to permeate most concert halls.
If you know me, you are aware that I appreciate a well timed fart just as much as I appreciate the work of Stravinsky. As a result, I refuse to participate in the gas cloud of condescension emitted from the puckered cheeks of the arbiters of art music. These jokers take on the role of Wall Street specialists, often throwing around complex terminology in an effort to confuse and overwhelm new listeners that don’t belong in their pseudo-erudite club. Thankfully for you, I consider it my personal mission to annoy these people by beating them at their own game. I am your Coach and I’m going to teach you to run the plays of classical music appreciation in 5 easy steps.
- Relax – This first step is more about a state of mind than anything else. Realize that although it may seem overwhelming, the best way to start learning about classical music is to start listening to it. I know this seems obvious, but as my dad says, “Beginning is half done.” If it’s a long work like a symphony, listen to it in parts like you would with a podcast. Don’t bite off more than you can chew at first. There are no rules here, but if you keep reading, I have some great examples for you to get started.
- Realize – When you begin to understand that every piece of classical music falls into a time period and a genre, it becomes much easier to appreciate whatever piece you may be listening to. All you need to know is enough to make yourself dangerous at the cocktail lounge in your local symphony hall. I will break this down more in a future blog series or maybe even an online course, but for now here is the express version of classical music time periods with their most important composers and a link to an example of their music.
- Ancient (pre-500)- This is pretty much anything before the Medieval time period. Rome, Egypt and Greece
- Medieval (500-1400) – Hildegard von Bingen, Perotin
- Renaissance (1400-1600) – Thomas Tallis, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
- Baroque (1600-1750) – J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi
- Classical (1750-1820) – Wolfang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Josef Haydn
- Romantic (1820-1900ish, very technical here) – Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
- 20th Century (1900-2000) – Igor Stravinsky, Samuel Barber, Phillip Glass
- Relate – Now that you have the basic outline and the sounds are in your ears, you will start to realize that these people were just like the artists we have today. Some of them were off doing their own thing with little care for fame and fortune while others were money grubbing political masterminds. The more you compare the leading artists of today with any one listed above, the more you will start to draw parallels. Maybe they had a rough upbringing in a bad part of town and they wrote about it, relating to their listeners. Or maybe they just ooze art and can’t help themselves but spit out what’s inside of them, confusing and capturing their audience. I find this relational approach helpful because you can’t understand music on a deeper level if you don’t first understand the person behind the notes and words.
- Repeat – Don’t listen to a piece one time and put it down. Just like anything that has enduring value, you will want more of it if you enjoy it. Anyone that says, “Classical music is an acquired taste,” is full of crap. It’s only because the person saying it is narrow minded and intellectually myopic. Don’t believe that nonsense. It’s in our blood to be moved by sounds and words. The only thing holding back our enjoyment of classical music is the wall built around it by jackasses who think they are better than everyone else because they can say things like avante-garde and gesamtkunstwerk. That being said, as we go on together I’ll teach you both of these terms and give you the power to use them against Stuffy McStufferson and his sloppy drunk of a trophy wife, Mitsy.
- Rejoice – Most importantly, have fun! This pursuit will take you to new levels of musical understanding and appreciation. The music of today is ALL, and I mean ALL, influenced by what has gone before. One of my favorite expressions is this one: All music was new. This works in both directions: The music happening now will sound different to people 100 years from now just like Mozart sounds different to us now. Once you understand that we are all in this beautiful cycle we call “life”, you will see the patterns and appreciate being alive in such an amazing time. Don’t overthink it, just enjoy it!
So that wraps up the crash course and you’re ready to start an amazing new journey in the world of classical music. The next step is to get yourself to a live concert – it will change your life! We just scratched the surface together and I think by writing this, I’ve realized I left a lot on the table that will come out in the future. After you’ve listened to the examples above, I want to know what your favorites were. If you want to know more, just shoot me a message here or on Facebook.