Classical music: a listener's guide

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:13

    Vernon-Many pop fans say that classical music is boring, but chances are, that's because they're looking for a Madonna melody or a Ricky Martin rhythm. And in that, they'll always be disappointed. Find out for yourself why Beethoven will outlast the BeeGees. Grab a recording or, better yet, treat yourself to a live performance and give these listening guidelines a try. The Chamber Music at Great Gorge Fifth Anniversary Concert at 8:00 p.m. this Friday, June 25, at St. Francis de Sales church on Rt. 517 in Vernon is a perfect place to start. Open your ears and enjoy the ride. The following guide may help you on your way. Pop music is popular for many reasons, but artistic quality is rarely one of them. That doesn't mean it's a bad thing, necessarily, but it shares a happy niche with reality TV, fast food, and tabloids for those same reasons. It's easy. It makes no demands, requires no commitment, no thought, no involvement n and offers little more than an empty, quick fix in return. The Macarena can move people's feet, but the Mozart Requiem could touch their souls. That doesn't make it better, if personal opinions and tastes are one's sole criteria, but it's undeniably different. No one would confuse Shakespeare with Stephen King, but folks aren't clamoring for Will's works at the supermarket checkout lines, either. People resist classical music as they do Shakespeare primarily because they don't understand it -- or think they don't, anyway. Pop wisdom says you can't get anything that's worth something for nothing n and so it is with music or any other art. A little effort yields a far greater reward. Willing to try? The following ideas and suggestions will help guide you along your musical adventure as you open your ears, mind, and spirit to the call of the classics. FORM: Let go of the quick-fix pop plot of verse/chorus/verse. Think bigger, bolder, broader. Most forms of classical music, generally speaking, tend to follow a "plot line" similar to that of a book. If you learn to not only anticipate where you're heading, but also to recognize where and when you've arrived, your ride will be more rewarding. The Exposition of a theme or themes is like the introduction of characters in a story. Pay attention to who they are, and you'll follow their journey through the story with greater ease. These same characters, or themes, are then put to the test in the Development. Like the action-packed middle of a book, stuff happens, but if you pay attention, you'll probably still recognize those thematic characters struggling through their journey, en route to the story's denouement, or Recapitulation. The struggles subside, and the story comes full circle before it comes to a close. Try to listen for these changes and recognize where you are in the journey. But do enjoy the ride: take time to smell the musical roses n the high and low, the sweet and surly, the loud and soft. Listen for ideas that leap from player to player, and notice how each instrument's sound alters its meaning. FEELING: If you lose your way, or simply prefer only to smell the roses, by all means, toss the musical road maps out the window and breathe deep of their beauty. There is no "right" way to listen to or enjoy music. If you feel lost, however, shift your focus to the mood and expression of the sounds. How does it make you feel? What is the composer trying to tell you? Do you feel a connection? Can you imagine the composer huddled over a score, scribbling urgently by candlelight to record these sounds for you to hear? These are not notes; they are human emotions written in a form other than words. Open yourself to their call, and they will speak to you. FUNCTION: Most concertgoers can enjoy the physical beauty and excitement of a live performance, and young or new listeners may especially enjoy exploring this aspect of the concert. Watch for the quick glances and nods between players. Who leads? How? Notice their breathing at starting and stopping points. What exactly are they doing with those bows, anyway? Do they really use the whole thing? All the time? Do the bows move in unison? What about the fingers? Are they playing the same notes? And why do their left hands shake? There's so much going on at once n take a look. FINISHING: In other words, clapping. Showing your appreciation to the performers is certainly welcomed, but please wait until the music is over to do so. Many classical pieces have several movements, or parts, and people often applaud after each section, which is rather like clapping after every chapter of a book. Worse yet, but common enough, is the dreaded Grand Pause Applause n a powerful, pregnant, midsentence silence shattered by an overly enthusiastic clapper. This can be extremely disconcerting to the performers, as the story is interrupted before it is over. When in doubt, wait, then wait a little longer. There's