As with every kind of music, the more you know about classical music, the more you enjoy listening. As your understanding deepens, it touches you at more levels. But let’s get one thing straight: you don’t need a music degree to love it.
I’m all for formal education. That image to the left doesn’t really mean "Don’t get your degree." A better understanding of music can certainly arrive on that train, but there are other ways too.
Start with concert program notes and CD liner notes. (Think twice about buying music downloads unless they’re offered with PDF files of the notes.) Pre-concert lectures are a fine source, too. Don’t forget that you get a little dose of musical information with every WKSU classical program.
Should you ever want to get a little more serious about building your music appreciation, your local librarian is a fine guide. You can also dig into that infamous library with its books scattered across the floor, the Internet, but there you’ll have to be your own librarian.
Wikipedia is one obvious source, but your favorite search engine will turn up many, many others, from online PDFs of orchestras’ programs to hobbyist sites run by folks who just love a composer, style, or period. Classical Archives offers brief but usually enlightening notes on an immense range of classical works. One of my longtime favorites for early music is the website Chris Whent runs in connection with his WBAI program, Here of a Sunday Morning. That’s just scratching the surface.
Looking for something more general? Leonard Bernstein can help. An entire generation learned to love music through Bernstein’s brilliant, accessible guidance.
There’s plenty for adults in Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, originally produced for television from 1958 to 1972. What’s a melody? What does music mean? What makes music symphonic? What’s a mode? What’s sonata form? Bernstein gave the answers in language anyone can understand. About half of his presentations are available on DVDs (see Further Exploration, below).
Bernstein dug deeper in his 1972 Norton Lectures. He named the series The Unanswered Question, after a work by the American composer Charles Ives. The 6 lectures were released on LPs around 4 decades ago. You can buy them on DVD now, or see them for free on Youtube. (Check the Further Exploration section.)
If you’d prefer a more modern medium, maybe you’d like a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). It’s much like attending class, but on your schedule, not the prof’s. Class discussion is via blogs, forums, and/or social media.
From 1 April this year (2013), Carnegie Hall is offering an MOOC on orchestral music. In four online classes, you’ll learn how music directors decide what should go into a program, what makes a good orchestra good, what makes great music great, and what to listen for when you go to a concert. It’s free, but registration is required.
If you’re really serious and want a far more comprehensive (and still more formal) way to develop your music chops, consider Yale’s MUSI 112 Open Course.
MUSI 112 is a total of 23 (!) online lectures. It starts you off with the fundamentals of music – rhythm, melody, harmony, and form – then it crosses the classical lines into jazz, blues, rock, and Gregorian chant. You’ll learn how Pachelbel and Elton John used ostinato, get a taste of Mozart opera and piano music, see how symphonies grew from Beethoven’s time to Shostakovich’s and Mahler’s, and dig into Impressionism.
The Yale course is free, with no registration required, but they suggest that you buy the prof’s textbook.
Here of a Sunday Morning from WBAI New York
Listening to Orchestras from Carnegie Hall
MUSI 112: Listening to Music with Prof Craig Wright from Yale University
The Unanswered Question: Leonard Bernstein’s 1972 Norton Lectures
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