Friday, January 27, 2012

The great classical experiment

I make no apology that I have little love for classical music and that probably makes me a charlatan - a badge I can't say I wear with pride but I've been called a lot worse in my time. There are certain pieces of classical music I like (mainly modern composers like Gorecki and Arvo Pärt) but on the whole, classical makes me tune out. I'm a rock guy and I think that's ok.

However, a colleague at work put me onto Open Yale, an initiative by the institution that allows anyone to listen to lectures in a number of introductory classes. While I was looking through it, I stumbled upon a class entitled Listening to Music. The course description is thus:

This course fosters the development of aural skills that lead to an understanding of Western music. The musical novice is introduced to the ways in which music is put together and is taught how to listen to a wide variety of musical styles, from Bach and Mozart, to Gregorian chant, to the blues.

In the introductory lecture, Professor Craig Wright explains that our understanding of music (including the filthy rock I listen to) and life itself can be greatly improved by an understanding and appreciation of classical music. As such, I'm going to listen to a lecture a week and see if taking this class will improve my minimal understanding of classical and/or enhance my appreciation of the music I gravitate to. In some respects, it's almost a silly thing as I can't see myself relinquishing the new Mark Lanegan record for Beethoven anytime soon but maybe I'll actually learn something... probably not, I'm pretty dense. Here's hoping anyhow...

If you'd like to join me on this fool's errand, the classes can be obtained here. OK back to Lanegan...



  1. I am so doing this course with you, JH!! Thanks so much for the tip. I was looking into Continuing Education options but this is much cheaper. See you in class, buddy. Xx

  2. egads... I took several music classes at University. Enough that I could have probably fashioned a minor out of it. I agree that, much like The Bible, and Renaissance Art, so-called "classical" music should be studied, if for no other reason than that it is the foundation of our culture. Truthfully, I don't like the way we organize our thought about music- the division between Serious music, and Folk or Pop music seems just an excuse for class and ethnic prejudices, if you ask me. At the same time, I cannot deny that I respect the Artistic vision of a Dvorak or John Cage piece a bit more than that of Madonna or Jay Z. I prefer a simpler view- there is Art and then there is Commerce. Sometimes, Art has a commercial purpose, and sometimes Commercial endeavors aspire towards Art. So, what gets called "Serious" "Classical' or "Symphonic" music is subject to the same dichotomy as rock, or blues, or jazz, or reggae or disco. My favorite music of any genre is that which is confused between the goals of Art and Commerce. If nothing else, consider the career of Jaz Coleman. I'm willing to bet that his ventures as a conductor have paid him as handsomely in both terms of Art and commerce as singing for Killing Joke. Enjoy your class, and I hope you can gain an appreciation that music is just music, regardless of the categories we frame it in....

  3. Katie, I might see you in class or if it's anything like my real university experience, I'll probably sleep in til noon, miss my classes and then end up eating cornflakes while watching Oprah or afternoon kid's programs on the telly.

    Matt, I guess I wouldn't class this is as serious and non-serious music, I think it's more than I haven't had the opportunity to be really exposed to this kind of music in any thoughtful way. My childhood musical exposure was my Mum's love of 60's pop, my sister turning 13 in 1978 and embracing punk and my brother's collection of classic rock tapes in the 80's. From that mix, I came to my own eclectic tastes but classical music wasn't part of the equation - it just wasn't around. Being from a working class background, maybe it was a class thing, I can't be sure of that. But I agree, some things are worth exploring just because of their cultural evidence. I will be forever grateful for taking an English Literature minor at uni because it forced me to read all those books you should read. While I didn't necessarily like all of it (my God, I hate Joyce's Ulysses), it has informed my understanding of a lot of modern culture. I'm hoping going through this will be an educative experience but I don't expect great things. To be honest, it just seems like a good way to spend an hour a week and it's free...

  4. sounds interesting! I might give it a listen. I guess it's about rounding out what you hear when you hear this sound sculpture called music.

    Me, I like the supreme order and coherent counterpoint of baroque music. There's nothing like listening to Bach after a steady course of Glass - they're like interlocking opposites - Bach makes everything human and friendly again. Everything makes harmonic sense in Baroque - and the basslines are sometimes just awesome, as components of the whole.