Friday, July 23, 2004

[Book cover]

For the past several months, I’ve been reading Aaron Copland’s What to Listen For in Music. It’s a difficult book to read in one sitting, as it cover so much musical territory. I finally pushed through the last half of it this week.

It’s an amazing work, really. Copland manages a concise overview of many major classical music styles and a guide through the process of musical composition. But running throughout every chapter is a constant thread of the lay listener’s reaction to all of this. Copland is always answering the question, “How can the lay listener better appreciate and understand music?”

For example, his description of the rondo form (which, using letters to denote each distinct musical section, might be written as ABACADAEA…), is accompanied by exhortations to listen to rondos with this form in mind, to hear exactly how the composer is using the form. Understanding the underlying form gives the listener a fuller understanding of exactly what the composer has been able to do with the form.

And fortunately, Copland also encourages the reader to listen to new types of music. Rather than disparaging new and experimental styles, Copland points out that any dislike of a musical style is usually caused by insufficient exposure to that style. One must spend time listening to electronic music, for example, becoming used to its forms, before one can judge it.

He repeats the importance of listening to music, too, and the fact that nothing can improve our appreciation of music more than that practice. So, I’ve begun integrating that into my life, spending a little time each week listening closely to a classical piece. No distractions. I listen for the instruments being used at any given time, the overall melody being played, the accompaniments that bolster the melody, and the overall melodic line of the piece. And it’s exhausting. I listened like that to Beethoven’s first symphony, and had to stop after fifteen minutes, overwhelmed with musical input.

A little knowledge can change everything.

(Sorry I’ve been forgetting to post the VR story. I plan to start posting more again next week.)

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