Classically Trained: How does one begin to enjoy that 'classical' music, anyway?

September 19, 2012|By Bradley Zint

I love the world of so-called "classical" music.

To me, it's like this secret art form that so few in society truly comprehend.

And yet for those in the club, there it is, so clearly summiting the mountain of artistic endeavors. Year after year, it stands above the fray, impervious to the passing whims of what's in vogue.

But it can be a hard world in which to gain a passage of understanding.

More often than not, it is without recognizable melodies, hummable tunes and visual aids.

Indeed, sometimes there are dozens of minutes to listen to. Dozens!

They're an eternity in the ADD age of texting and 140-character limits.


But "classical" music is an art form that transcends age and locale, emanating from ensembles young and old, foreign and domestic, large and small.

It is music that is unforgiving. Auto-Tune doesn't correct anyone or anything.

Such things, though, are what make it great.

But just how do the uninitiated gain entry past the red velvet rope and into the world of oboes, conductors and sonatas?

There's no definitive answer to that question, but, for what it's worth, here's mine.

We'll call this two-step guide "How to Succeed in Enjoying 'Classical' Music by Really Trying."


Step 1: Mindset and Preparation

I take these two for granted.

I started playing an instrument in elementary school, but before that, I was simply curious about them. I can't tell you exactly why. I don't come from a musically inclined family.

But around second grade, I could be found on the floor, headphones in my ears and a horrendously untuned Fisher-Price infant piano in front of me. As I listened to music, be it the "Star Wars" soundtrack or Mozart's greatest hits, I tinkered with the keys, trying to match the piano's pitch to the pitches I was hearing.

It must've looked pretty silly.

But it fueled what's been a lifelong passion in me for the great traditions of Western music (aka "classical").

Such a mindset is key: This is a complex art form, one that spans hundreds of years and many styles.

Navigating it takes some concentration and, dare I say, preparation.

First, learn a basic: the instrument families.

This means knowing the difference between bassoon and a baritone, knowing that an oboe is in the woodwind family — things like that.

Once armed with such amazing knowledge, you should learn the basic subdivisions within Western music. Only then will you know why I've put quotation marks around "classical" throughout this whole column.

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