When it comes to rock music, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grip on its history and principal performers. I lived through most of the history of that particular musical genre, was immersed in it when I was in high school and college, and read about my favorite artists and the early days of rock ‘n roll, the British invasion, and psychedelia. I can pretty easily identify songs that fell into subgenres like doo-wop, bubblegum, acid rock, and disco and can identify obscure songs and artists. And even though I don’t listen to current rock music much these days, I still carry around that history.
With classical music, that’s not true. I didn’t pick it up because it was the prevailing musical form in my formative years; instead, the apogee of the classical period happened decades or even centuries before I was born. I’ve listened to it over the years, but my knowledge really is narrow and about an inch deep. I’ve watched Amadeus, listened to a kid’s tape we had when the boys were little called Mr. Beethoven Lives Upstairs, and am generally familiar with at least some of the creations of some of classical music’s biggest names, like Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. I know that I really like baroque music. But . . . that’s about it. I still confuse Schubert and Schumann.
For a fan of the music, my knowledge is pretty dismal. It’s embarrassing.
Recently I’ve decided that I’m not just going to accept my state of blissful classical music ignorance, and am going to try to broaden my horizons by discovering some new composers, learning about distinguishing between the different classical musical periods, and trying to understand the whole composing process and how orchestration works. I’m not going to try to learn how to read music — we’re talking baby steps here — but I’m hoping to end up with a better appreciation for the music that I listen to most frequently these days.
Thanks to the great Idagio app that I’ve written about before, I’ve already discovered a few previously unknown composers whose music I really like, and learned some interesting things about process. This year I’ll be reporting from time to time on what I’m getting out of my enrollment in the College of Musical Knowledge. Fortunately, there’s no curriculum, and there won’t be any midterms. I’ll just be auditing the classes.