One of the first questions I ask my students is: “How often do you listen to music?”
They’ll start bragging and chattering about all the stuff they know. When I follow up a little bit, a very interesting thing comes up:
Most people don’t listen to music. They have it on in the background. While they’re doing something else. And they’ve hardly ever -past the age of ten- really sat down and listened to a song. You don’t, unless someone makes you. Or you make yourself.
Or I make you.
Music is made to be listened to. It is written by people and performed by people who really -really- want you to hear it. Occasionally, make some time to do just that:
Find a five minute window in your day, and get rid of all other distractions. Set your phone to Silent*, close the door, and put on some headphones. (I’m not joking about the headphones. Most music is made to be heard in performance. Lacking that, a good set of headphones or in-ear phones will do.) Now listen to the music.
“Ok, Gryph. I’ve done all those things. Now,…ehm,…what am I listening for?”
Most people try too hard to hear interesting things. For people who aren’t experienced (note: I did NOT say knowledgeable) with listening to ‘classical music’ the pressure of trying to hear’ the right things’ is usually exactly what puts them off the whole thing.
You don’t need to try to listen for anything. You just listen to what your own brain does with the music. I’ll be honest, it takes a little bit of practice, but when you approach it openly and without the need to ‘hear the right things’ you’ll get it in no time at all.
As an example to some of my classes, I show three photos. One of them is this one:
I then play three pieces of music, and they have to match the mood of the music with the photo. They always pick the sad, slow piece to describe this photo (mother says goodbye to her sons as they go to war in WWII).
But there was, a few weeks ago, one girl, who was adamant to choose the happy, fast piece to go with this photo. When I asked her why, she piped up: “Because it’s not a goodbye, it’s a welcome back!” Full marks for her, because that made exactly the same amount of sense.
The music will make you think things, and different things for everyone. Sometimes very intense feelings, sometimes things like “Oh yeah, mustn’t forget to buy milk.”
Listen to the music in the same way you listen to someone telling you an interesting story, because that is exactly what’s happening.
MICHAEL TIPPETT - STEAL AWAY
Choosing the first piece to listen to was incredibly difficult, because I wanted it to be accessible, and worth it. Michael Tippet was a British composer, who is one of my personal favourites. This piece is an arrangement of a Spiritual, performed by a choir.
There is a link marked “Playlist” in the sidebar. This is my Spotify Playlist to go with this blog. A Youtube channel will follow.
If I wanted to put ideas into your mind I’d mention Tippett’s struggle as a gay man in the early 20th century and the underground rail road in America, but that would be saying too much already. Oops.
Let me know what you thought of your listening experience.
(*) A few months ago I disabled all vibration of my iPhone. Best techno-decision I’ve ever made.
“….you WHAT now mate?…”
I’ve always had a bit of a gripe with the term classical music. It’s a very handy shortcut, and people seem to understand what you’re talking about (for the most part) when you say ‘Classical Music’. But my problem is easy to explain.
Ask someone(*) to explain what CM is, and they’ll most likely say words like “orchestra” and “violins” etcetera. So then I play them a piece of Beethoven on the piano. They then include piano music. Then I play them Gregorian Chant, which also gets included. They’ll start saying things like “harmony” and “instrumentation” which is where I play Stockhausen. “Music from a long time ago” and I’ll play Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings…
-and so on and so on.
Sooner or later, every single definition people have of ‘classical music’ gets shot to pieces. The only definition which has any merit would be “Music from the Classical period” - which is how many musicians and academics use the term ‘Classical Music’.
The problem is there, that the Classical Period is widely agreed to haven been between 1750 and 1820 AD (ish). This leaves out quite a lot of music history, agreed? Music historians in general divide the history of Music into a number of periods: Medieval, Renaissance, Classical, Romantic, Neoclassical, 20th Century etc, mainly for the purposes of discussion.
I just call it Music. And so that’s the term I’ll use in this blog.
Now let’s start listening. Actively.
(*): Someone much less informed than any of you, I’m sure. ;-)
There are a couple of things I would beg you to keep in mind while you read this blog, and listen to its music.
And thank Jeebus for that, right? This blog has been put (or more likely, thrown) together as a short introduction to some friends about a subject I am passionate about. I will talk about things that matter to me, and use music that I think is wothwhile. You might not think so. That’s fine, and it takes me to my next point.
But there’s disagreeing and then there’s whining. Know the difference. I do.
Even though I support every statement I make on this blog, they are -after all- only opinions. The content with be incomplete, sometimes apocryphal, and biased. But I hope you’ll find something on here that you like.