Saturday, August 26, 2017

How To Get Into Classical Music (A Question, Not A Statement)

I think I like the idea of liking classical music more than I actually like it, if that makes sense.  It can be an enticing, challenging, and artsy style of music to get into for those tired of the same old, same old.  The stiff, stereotypical way in which classical musicians usually perform and present the music - both in their dress and body language - is one of the obstacles a gen-X-er has to overcome, especially if you're automatically drawn to the black t-shirt and corduroy pants adorned, scruffy haired, relaxed coolness of a Jerry Garcia type of vibe.
Answering the question "how to get into classical music?" is different than answering "how to get into rock n roll?"  Rock and roll is such a part of the pop culture that most people from my generation and the one prior couldn't help but be exposed to the commonly held belief that The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are the best rock bands.

Being a skeptic, cynic and contrarian, I didn't trust or accept the notion that The Beatles or Stones were the best, so I explored deeply and obsessively only to find out that for my taste that title should go to Phish and then backwards down the number line to various other artists who may or may not fully align with the rock classification but who appeal to me.

Delving into jazz is a bit different too, because you are instantly going to encounter Miles Davis and then it's pretty much downhill from there.  Almost without argument it's easy to see how he is the best ever to define, conform, refine and expand that style of music.  And yet, no one could have told me that I would develop a slight preference toward Sun Ra's eccentric and prolific output over Miles' more tailored approach.
Harry Partch
One tactic for classical is to research the composers that artists like Frank Zappa and Eric Dolphy were listening to.  That'll lead you to people like Stockhausen, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Varèse, Boulez, and Moondog.  In my experience, further research will dig up names like Penderecki, Harry Partch, Terry Riley, Lou Harrison, Raymond Scott, Arvo Pärt, Pablo Casals, Philip Glass and Steve Reich.  A bunch of old white dudes.

One thing about classical music that can be confusing is do you seek out the composer, who may have died so long ago that there aren't any actual recordings of him or her playing his or her own music, or do you seek out the group/performer (AKA symphony, AKA orchestra, AKA ensemble, AKA violinist, AKA cellist, et cetera) and focus on their recordings/performances?

Rather than star with Mozart, Beethoven or Bach, I'm assuming that I'd like to start contemporary* and then work back (or forward) from there.  I haven't exactly found my Phish or Sun Ra of the classical world yet, but I'm still looking.  Suggestions are welcome.  Maybe I'll discover that more mainstream movie soundtrack composers like John Williams, Alfred Newman or Ennio Morricone are where it's at.

*None those composers or classical musicians I namechecked above are what you would call new, even the modern ones.  By contrast, in the rock world and even the jazz world I'm aware of artists under 40 who are making great music.  Is there a relatively new composer and/or classical music ensemble offering a vast reward to those who find them?

1 comment:

  1. Check out the music of Michael Torke (b. 1961). His accessible, tuneful music draws on various minimalist, jazz, and pop/rock influences. From the next generation, Nico Muhly (b. 1981) is making a significant reputation for himself composing both concert music and film scores (e.g. "The Reader").