Do You Need to Understand Classical Music to Appreciate It?
Do you have to understand something to like or appreciate it?
Think about all the cultural things we experience: art, music, theater, dance, cuisine, literature. And more. People study and hone their craft in these fields for years — decades — to bring professional quality products (for lack of a better term) to the rest of us.
But does that mean we also need to be at that high level as audience members?
Miles Hoffman wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times about this as it pertains to classical music. The title, “A Note to the Classically Insecure” caught my eye, as I’m passionate about classical music and, therefore, want to show people why I think it’s awesome.
He describes how so many people suffer from what he calls “Classical Music Insecurity Complex”. Basically, people will hear a piece of classical music, say they like it or not, but then hastily add that they really don’t know enough about music to give an opinion.
As Mr. Hoffman puts it:
“When people leave the movie theater they rarely hesitate to give their opinion of the movie, and it never occurs to them that they don’t have a right to that opinion.”
Those movie-goers most likely know nothing about the technicalities of making a movie. I’m one of them. But I can still tell you if I liked a movie or not, or whether it moved me emotionally. Same goes for art, or literature, or cooking. We can also add the trades in there. I don’t have to know a darn thing about carpentry to admire a beautiful piece of wood furniture.
It’s okay not to know something
Over time, classical music has been elevated to Something Only Certain People Can Hope to Understand. And if you’re not one of those “certain people”? Please just go back to the rock you live under.
Fortunately, there are quite a few of us who don’t agree with the above sentiment. Indeed, I write this blog (albeit sporadically) because I firmly believe you don’t have to understand anything about classical music in order to enjoy it. I try to explain pieces in a way to help you understand and, perhaps, enhance your enjoyment of them. But if you just listened to the music and didn’t read my commentary? That’s okay, too.
Admittedly, classical music can seem intimidating. There’s a vast library of music that spans centuries. Where do you start? That’s another reason I write this blog. You may find a jumping-off point from a piece you like, which leads to listening to more by that composer, which leads to finding similar composers. Try listening to your local classical radio station or find some playlists on a streaming service.
Above all, just listen. Over time, some things will become more familiar (even if you still can’t name them). As a result, you’ll start to notice that certain composers or styles move you more than others. Keep exploring. Ask questions. I love getting questions here on the blog. I love when people come up to me at a concert to ask me about my instrument. I love this world of music and want to share it with people!
Psst… What’s In the Picture?
I picked this picture precisely because many people wouldn’t know what it is. That’s great! It’s a chance to learn something new. These are mouthpieces (with reeds and ligatures (to hold the reeds on) for the many types of clarinet that I own. The smallest belongs to the E♭ (E-flat) piccolo clarinet and the largest two belong to the E♭ (E-flat) contra-alto and B♭ (B-flat) contrabass clarinets. Without the mouthpiece, reed, and ligature, the clarinet won’t produce a sound!
Thank you for reading the blog! Have fun on your musical journey. Please feel free to ask me questions, or share a great new-to-you piece you’ve discovered!