You Should be Listening to More Music

There are two big milestones coming up this week, and along with it some reflection, as far as articles are concerned.

When I started this blog, my intentions were simply to have a place that I can both record and have easy access to my thoughts on music as I become familiar with it. It coincided with a brief period, of a year, slightly more, of somewhat diligent piano study. I was taking lessons and practicing as much as I could with what limited access I had to pianos and keyboards. It later spiraled out into this blog, of hundreds of articles, and what I estimate to be easily more than half a million words of text, reviewing concerts, talking about music or history, sharing my thoughts and research about pieces and my feelings about them… all quite bloggish, really.

There’s also a podcast I have been terrible about neglecting lately.

But in looking back at the past three and a half years of listening and reading and writing, I’ve learned a few things, and in a kind of prequel to that milestone article that will appear on Friday, I have a few sentiments to share about the experience of spending oodles of time and money on albums, concert tickets, listening to music, hosting fees and all the rest to do this little thing that’s become maybe much more than a hobby ever should.

It Enriches Your Life

Have you ever read a good book? Maybe more than once? If the writing is good, and the timing is right, that is to say if it shows up at the right time in your life, then it can be absolutely life-changing. It can change the way you see the world, open your eyes to new thoughts and experiences, help you think about things in a new, exciting way, change who you are, all without leaving your chair/bed/sofa. And even decades later, in a time when you might not appreciate that book if you decided to read it now for the first time, it still holds some special place in your heart because it meant something then; it was somehow assimilated into your own experience, the experiences you shared with Holden Caulfield, or John Singer, or Jay Gatsby, Hank Rearden, Scout Finch, and what they meant to you then and now… how valuable are they to you? How fondly do you look back on that experience you shared with that character that an artist created from their own experiences? It’s amazing.

I feel very much the same way about music, and I think of individual pieces very much the same way as many might about books, as expressed above. I’m not trying to say that I’m somehow unique in this, that I have some higher connection to music; there’s no ivory tower here. To the contrary, we live in a time, with social media and YouTube and streaming services and iPhones and mobile devices, where we have easier and readier access than ever to this great source of experience and enjoyment. Music is more than just something to pass the time; it is time.

Sure, I’ll listen to music while I’m doing other things, but that’s probably more accurately stated as ‘I’ll do other things while I’m listening to music.’ I’m a lover of podcasts, and I have my weekly subscriptions, and I’ll put them on while I’m doing laundry or dishes or running errands, but it’s only because I can’t crawl in bed and stare at my ceiling all day (and if you have any ideas about how to make that financially viable, please get in touch with me). I do lots of listening to music, either to familiarize myself with new pieces or to revisit old ones. Occasionally I’ll sit (or lie) down with the express purpose of enjoying a piece of music the way you might sit down to a movie. That’s what I mean by ‘it is time.’ It’s something to focus on, to experience, not just fill silence.

And so, with ready access to tapping into the emotions and thoughts and experiences of other people, worlds you maybe haven’t seen and experiences you maybe haven’t had, why wouldn’t you broaden your horizons a little bit? It’s not homework. We don’t sit down to a book with a checklist of emotions to mark off; rather we do it to feel something more, to think differently, to live a little more, and that entire process is enjoyable.

But it takes a little bit of time and effort. Of course you don’t need to read a Mozart biography and take lessons in piano and music theory and conducting to appreciate a symphony or a piano concerto. But the more you know, the more you can appreciate it, and there’s almost always a (maybe very small, but still a) story behind almost anything you listen to. You might not get as far down the rabbit hole as some other diehard listeners, but you have almost nothing to lose, so go listen to some music, and learn something about it.

That’s aside from all of the benefits like stress relief and all the rest.

I Want to Make an Impact

This sounds arrogant and pretentious and all that; I know. I’m so aware of that. But this point has become one of the reasons the blog has ballooned out to be what it is, and it kind of bleeds into the third one below, but stay with me.

I enjoy listening to music and learning about it, as you will know if you’ve been a reader for any length of time. I also enjoy writing. And when you have come to enjoy something, especially something that other people might not know about, there’s a motivation to remedy that situation: you want to watch that awesome movie with your friend, take them to that new restaurant you discovered, send them a link to a great article. That’s a natural inclination.

I have no desire to get into the whole “reasons classical music is dying” or “reasons why classical music isn’t dying” or “why people find it difficult to appreciate classical music” discussion, but the fact of the matter is that the average person doesn’t listen to classical music, rarely visits their local concert hall, and as I’ve said before, they don’t know what they’re missing.

In another area, the vast majority of the more casual dedicated listeners (as in… people who appreciate classical music but don’t devour it voraciously) stick to the same core repertoire that has been featured in concert halls for the past century or two. So not only are there new people to expose to classical music, there’s also a freaking ton of classical music to expose to even the more familiar of listeners.

Make no mistake: I don’t see myself as some kind of classical music savior. I’m not holding my breath to effect some enormous change in the industry or anything, but… it is the little things that I do very much enjoy: when someone leaves a comment somewhere or replies to a tweet to thank me for a recommendation because they’d never heard of this piece and love it, or that they were pleased to find an article of mine had some information they were looking for about some piece, or that they enjoy the blog… those are all little successes, and I cherish them. I’ve managed to make a few converts, sure, dragging people to the concert hall with me who later become at least semi-regulars, or at least buy a few albums of their own, or made a friend or acquaintance aware of a piece or composer they enjoyed discovering… Again, this was never the intention of the blog, but if it can be a side effect of it, I am all the more glad. The podcast has also been one of those endeavors, more directly so, but it takes a significant amount of my time, and that is a challenge.

I’ve tried to take up the baton for a few composers in particular because I feel that they’re only a few steps away from having their breakout moments as world-famous composers, or otherwise, that I’m perplexed they haven’t yet seen outstanding success in concert halls worldwide, and you can pardon me for thinking I might have anything to do with changing that, but I’d love to say I was able to. So keep reading and keep sharing!

There’s So Much to Learn

This is sort of an extension of the above two points, but ahead of four revisit articles coming up this week, pieces I’ve really needed to revisit, it’s been interesting to think about how I felt about these pieces when I originally wrote about them and how I feel about them now. There was a time in which I felt I had an idea of what (some of) these works were about, and for others I went ahead and wrote the article anyway, more from the standpoint of “this is where I am, stuck trying to digest this music” rather than presenting it in any informed way.

But years later, that’s changed. I know so much more about these works than I did then, and while saying I have some kind of insight into them might make it sound like I have something unique to say, or that I could conduct or interpret them, which is wholly untrue, I have  experienced them more, I appreciate them in a way I hadn’t at the time of their original writing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve specifically kept the original articles, so I can look back on where I was, even if it now seems a little embarrassing that I knew so little about them and yet pretended to have something to say about them. But that’s the process, and the joy, isn’t it?

We do grow and change, and aside from enriching our experiences and outlook on life through music, we memorialize those specific times in our lives, maybe singular, individual memories, or entire chapters of our lives, with certain pieces. I have very specific, vivid, sometimes fond, sometimes not so fond memories of certain pieces, associated with certain events, places, people, thoughts, emotions, and even the less than fond ideas can be associated with very fond pieces… they’re all embedded into the tapestry of life, and that tapestry would be far more mundane if it weren’t for those experiences and enriched memories, and it goes without saying that those very individual memories are just that: no one else will ever have the exact same impression or memory or emotion of or toward a piece as you do.

Aside from growing with and from music, there’s also just a hell of a lot of it. The library I visit regularly has something above like… more than a hundred thousand recordings on CD, vinyl, DVD, etc., not to mention reference works, biographies, periodicals, scores, and so much else. There are thousands of works I have never heard or heard of, and yet even then I still find that I’m looking for things that aren’t included or contained within those library shelves. That is to say that the utter output of music there is to discover is enough to make your head spin.

I’ve mentioned it here in more than one article in the past, but go do a teeny bit of homework, and add up the collective number of string quartets written by Joseph Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Pleyel, Boccherini, Wanhal, Brunetti, and Cambini. (Mind you, all eight of those men were born [well] before 1800.) By output, Beethoven is by far the weakling of those eight names, but in total, (spoiler alert!) those eight composers wrote over 500 string quartets, not to mention their other works, and I bet most of you have never heard of Brunetti or Cambini, maybe some of the others either.

There’s just so much stinking music out there. Granted, some of it you’ve never heard of just because, for most of us, there’s not a lot special about it, but that’s also for each one of us individually to decide, and how wonderful it is to know that even today there are works from decades, even centuries, ago that are just recently receiving their premiere performances or recordings. Isn’t that wonderful?

It might be overwhelming to think of how much music there is to try to learn and learn about and enjoy, but relax. You will never ever hear it all, and that should be comforting because how terrible would life be with no more new music to enjoy?

So, seriously… If you’ve read all the way to here, go find some music to enjoy. Find something on YouTube, and then find it on Wikipedia or iTunes. There’s so much to learn about and experience and hear and read, and you have absolutely nothing to lose by doing so, so really… absolutely, definitely,

Explore…

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