A Million Musical Words

1,000,000 is a lot of almost anything.

  • 1 million seconds is about 11 and a half days.
  • 1 million days is more than 2,737 years.
  • You could log 1 million miles (ish) by circling the earth about 40 times, or taking two round-trip voyages to the moon.

What about a million words? According to this infographic and this Wikipedia list, here are the lengths of some famous ‘long books.’

  • Charles Dickens’ Bleak House is 360,947 words long.
  • Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is 418,053 words long.
  • Viktor Hugo’s Les Miserables is 530,982 words long.
  • Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged contains 561,996 words.
  • Tolstoy’s War and Peace offers up 587,287 words.
  • Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy is 593,674 words long.
  • Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady is (estimated at most to be) 984,870 words. (Okay, so it’s not really famous, maybe, but very long, at 1534 pages in paperback.)

Those are some big books. This article is currently 155 words long as of the end of this sentence.

But there are some truly ridiculously long books, like Proust’s (in)famous À la recherche du temps perdu, which holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest novel at a verified 1,267,069 words.

If you haven’t already guessed, by the end of this article, I will have reached a million words on this blog. I think. By a pretty solid calculation of my average article length over the first 400 articles I wrote, and a rough estimate based on that for the next 400, I calculated my average article length overall, and this very article, based on those calculations, will be the one in which I state that I break the 1,000,000-word mark, possibly a bit sooner than this with some of the longer opera articles as of late.

And with those numbers, as much as I write per article/month (give or take), I’ll catch up to Proust in another ten months or so.

(308 words now.) Now, I’m under no impression I’m like, the first blogger ever to reach this milestone. I’ve been writing here for less than four years (will be four years coming up this October), and not even everything on here is all my work. I have quotes, lists of statistics, research, factoids, etc., but for me, it’s a big deal. Let me have this moment.

As I’ve said before elsewhere, this blog started as a personal little logbook of sorts, a digital place where I could flip back to and view my thoughts or research or impressions on pieces I’d listened to previously in the event that I didn’t remember much about them, but at some point along the way, I became slightly more ambitious (presumptuous?) in thinking that just maybe I could share something that other people don’t know or haven’t heard or thought of. When I say that, I don’t mean to suggest I have some esoteric, arcane knowledge of the classical music world, or insights into the industry. I most certainly do not.

However, I do listen to a hell of a lot of music, and I read a lot about what I listen to, if I can. For some stuff, that might be at a much more cursory level than the people who are really serious about it. I try to explain things the way I would like them to be explained to me if I had slightly less knowledge of or interest in classical music, the way I think a layman would appreciate it without talking down to someone or losing the real meaning of what’s there.

Actually, in my writing, I try to reach the balance that the writer of one of my favorite books says he tried to strike. The book is called A Short History of Nearly Everything, and it very literally changed my life. In the introduction, he speaks of the youthful curiosity he had to understand things as a child, fascinated by illustrations in a science textbook, only to be disappointed and bored to death by the explanations and information given within that book. Years later, he says, as an adult, he realized that he understood so very little about the world, the planet on which he lives, be it physics, chemistry, biology, geology, medicine, whatever, and he made it his aim to fix that, but also present it in a specific way. He says of the purpose of the book:

The idea was to see if it isn’t possible to understand and appreciate-marvel at, enjoy even-the wonder and accomplishments of science at a level that isn’t too technical or demanding, but isn’t entirely superficial either.

That was my idea and my hope, and that is what the book that follows is intended to be.

(As of the end of this sentence, this article is 784 words long. Think of this like a countdown to one million, even though it might not be.)

I say Bryson’s book changed my life because it suddenly made everything so interesting. As an adult, having left high school for a number of years, I was finally finding an interest in all the aforementioned sciences, entirely unable to do calculations or give any specific detail about the topic, but had an overall, general understanding that, even if I couldn’t reproduce in the same eloquent words as Bryson or his sources, was fulfilling and enlightening all the same.

Music has science behind it, but honestly, its purpose as art (phew, that’s a tricky topic) is (either) to please, to stimulate, to be enjoyed, to comfort, to provoke thought, to challenge ideas, to move, to convey, delight, entertain, ultimately to communicate something.

I almost included ‘to distract’ as an option, as in to distract from the mundane, the frustrating, the disappointing, the ugly, the bland in everyday life, but in many cases, that’s what I find ‘pop music’ to be, no more than a flashy distraction or quick thrill. There’s some really great rock (or folk or dance or whatever) music, no doubt, stuff I have in my music library and will listen to in secret every now and then, but by and large, as you have probably noticed, I listen to classical music. It is a never-ending well of fascinating, spectacular things to discover. In fact, I kind of wrote about this a few years ago in this article. That article is from over three years ago, but I still feel the same way about it. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

But think about all the people you know in your life, personally, intimately, or even casually, kind of secondhand. Do you know anyone who’s really, seriously, uncontrollably passionate about science, like with bumper stickers and shirts and hats and is always reading a book (or books) about it and talks about it constantly and all that? I doubt it, and if you do, they’re likely professionals of some kind.

But what about music? I think it suffers from the same kind of ‘Oh, that’s not really for me’ syndrome that math and science do, that it’s complicated, uninteresting, dry, too hard, you have to be a professional, whatever. But no, you don’t.

I wrote this article upon the milestone of my 700th article earlier this year. It’s titled You Should Be Listening to More Music. That 700th article also corresponded with my 400th piece of music discussed, as in, actually devoted to a piece of music, and it was Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.

(And this, here… a MILLION!)

(This actually kind of really means a lot to me.)

In that article (the You Should Be Listening one…), I reflect on the simple joys of classical music, that it’s a relationship, a pursuit that can be as passive or obsessive as you want it to be, but that the more you learn and enjoy, the more you want to learn and enjoy, you just have to start that process.

As part of the journey of these last (almost) four  years, 800+ articles and (now almost) 1,000,000 words, I’ve pushed CDs and YouTube links on people, brought (or dragged) people to concerts, on many occasions at no cost to them, in an effort to prove my point, that “This is amazing!” There is a podcast too, but it’s kind of off in a dusty corner for now, but the whole purpose has been, never to say ‘Look what I know,’ but ‘Holy crap this is what I’ve learned just let me tell you how cool this is,’ and to try to spread at least some of that enthusiasm and interest around, and I’ve sort of made a few converts…

But anyway, that’s a million. I used to only post once a week, maybe twice. I didn’t write about concerts I went to, and there was zero writing on the weekend, but then there were times like July of 2015, when I posted articles for something like 40 days in a row, about early piano music from folks like Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Schumann. I’ve had a few long stretches of posts like that, a few this year, but not quite that long.

In any case, I was just talking today (at the time of writing, not publishing) to a friend and writer about my approach to the blog, and how it’s one of the only things (as in like, nonessential life pursuits) that I have complete and entire control of, over which the only real concern is time. I have no other constraints (aside from purchasing the music I need/want to listen to) in writing here except for time. As long as I’ve listened and researched and read and thought enough about it, I can sit down and write, and for the last almost four years, that’s what I’ve done. My crappy old office chair broke a few weeks ago and it was swiftly replaced by a much nicer, much more expensive IKEA chair, which is very tall, and grey, and called MARKUS. I am in it now.

So while this was originally a personal pursuit, I aspire, tenuously, to it being more, and I know it’s part of my regular closing of every article, but I so much mean it: thank you so much for reading. I would absolutely love to hear from both of you who have read this far, so send me an email: fugueforthought@mail.com. That’s just mail, not gmail. Someone else frustratingly has that.

Thank you, and stay tuned for more.

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