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#450666 - 01/06/08 06:35 AM What NOT to start newcomers on?  
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F minor Offline
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I have recently been thrilled by the prospect of expanding the western art music sphere. All the threads I have taken part in generally have to do with expanding our sacred realm. I wish to caution the all out assault of "culture" on the "uncultured", though, as it can obviously turn people away.

My proposition is to make an informal list of the LEAST accessible pieces of music for "newbies". Obviously late Schoenberg, much Sorabji, Berg, Krenek, etc. would proooobably turn them off. I did take heed of the idea that it depends on the experiences, age, and group of a listener whether they like it or not. With this in mind, try to make as broad a list as possible!

The two groups I am most familiar with, and thus can identify what they might dislike most, are the pre-teens and teenagers. In my experience with people and music, I can say right away that Contrapunctus I from The Art of Fugue would not suit a new listener of any age., unless they are very deep into thought already. I just find that its harmonic minors and overall harmonies may just make them think it is boring! For the teenagers, I'd actually avoid works further forward in time, such as Mozart, as most teenagers I've met consider Mozart and his contemporaries to be rather a bore. I think that they'd probably want something with a bit more heart-on-the-sleeve quality, but not every teen is the same!

Give your own suggestions as to what to AVOID, so as to not turn potential listeners away! Remember: these are based only on the personal experiences of each person, so don't expect objectivity!

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#450667 - 01/06/08 09:57 AM Re: What NOT to start newcomers on?  
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Quite aside from what repertoire to avoid, avoid bad performances--particularly in singers. Bad classical singers really turn the general populace off, but they're turned on to good singing--even classical singing.

Having said that, remember that sopranos, like olives, are an acquired taste. Best to avoid them in introducing people to classical music. Stick to male voices, particularly baritones. Someone in the other thread mentioned Bryn Terfel. Good choice. Wonderful warm voice--and lots of material in English.

Along those lines, stick to singers and recordings where the words, if in English, can be readily understood. Words are a window to classical music, because people readily understand them: another argument for introducing people to classical music through voice.

I love a beautiful vibrato myself--and won't abide a generalized complaint about vibrato--but there are too many singers giving vibrato a bad name. Avoid any singer with an out of control, or excessive vibrato. It turns people off, and all of classical music with it.


"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10

#450668 - 01/06/08 05:06 PM Re: What NOT to start newcomers on?  
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And why not the opposite F minor? Why do we choose the list 'to avoid'?

Choose the list that they would probably like to hear.

#450669 - 01/06/08 07:58 PM Re: What NOT to start newcomers on?  
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R. Strauss' Metamorphosen...


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#450670 - 01/07/08 12:36 PM Re: What NOT to start newcomers on?  
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Well, I started to really get into "classical" music in my teens, so I can tell you my experience, which I think is quite universal (WARNING: long post!)

Many teens look for strong emotion in music (you know, usually gloomy, melancholic, and the such). As an early teenager, my concept of emotion in music was pretty much black and white, that is, happy or sad. Thus, a melancholic piece would sound weird (and really really interesting) due to its blend of "happiness" and "sadness". Needless to say, this conception was in my head thanks to pop rock music, which usually doesn't depart from those two very definite realms. In addition, because of pop music as well, the emotion had to be there, blatantly evident, ready for the taking, and any composer who "hid" it or "complicated" it was too much for me at that time.

The first compositions that got me going were Chopin's Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise (op. 22) and Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky. These works have many benefits for an untrained ear. For one, despite their complexity, their emotional content is readily accessible, and doesn't depart much from the popular understanding of what classical music is --Chopin is expectedly mellow and romantic, and Alexander Nevsky sounds just like a modern-day movie score.

Chopin's op. 22 helped me build up the patience you need to listen to classical music. For example, when listening to the Grand Polonaise, I'd love the climax, and many times I would fast forward the recording to get to that part, because I couldn't wait and all the rest else sounded shallow in comparison. In time, after listening to the piece for while, I began to appreciate the more subtle middle parts as well, and in the end I enjoyed every second of the recording.

Now a warning --these two works did it for ME. My best friend at the time had a musical background much like mine, but as I got more and more into romantic music, he developed an obsession with Bach and counterpoint. So I'd advise people out there to have a few "representative" works from each period and style, and expose potential new listeners to them, to see what catches their ear the most.

If these people WANT to learn to listen to classical music, like I did, a trick I used is to listen to a new piece (in my case, it was Rach 3) while working or doing something else (i.e. not paying conscious attention to the music). If I tried to actively listen, I would get bored, because I didn't understand a thing (I don't mean intellectually, that came much much later, but that I couldn't connect to it at all). On the other hand, if I listened to it while doing something else, from time to time my mind would 'click' and I would see the blinding beauty of a passage or two. When that happened, I just followed the same process as when I learned to enjoy Chopin's op. 22, and in a month or so I was enjoying every minute of the first movement. And so on and on.

As soon as you get into a composer's language, "connecting" to successive works gets easier and easier. I started with Rach 3, which isn't exactly easy to enjoy (melodic lines are hidden by multiple lines and rythm, not to mention them going from one section of the orchestra to the other and then to the piano), and then Rach 1, and by the time I got to Rach 2, I could enjoy it from beginning to end on the first sitting.

As you can see, it wasn't easy for me. I'm convinced that unless someone really wants to learn the subtleties of academic music, they won't be able to. Sure, they can enjoy Claire de Lune and things like that, but Rach 3 or any of Beethoven's sonatas take a bit of time and effort. The problem is that people don't know quite how much rewarding it is to make that effort and learn to listen. When I was a teenager, I was blown away by the emotional intensity that you can get out of academic music. Whatever pop music has to offer just can't compare.

To end this, just a further note of caution. Most newcomers to academic music WON'T enjoy Mozart, Clementi, Haydn or any composer from the classical period, contrary to popular belief. Besides, people who are NOT interested in academic music probably think that it all sounds like a Mozart's sonata, and are discouraged by it (this is from personal experience). This situation is made worse by academic music radios, whose repertoire seems to be exclusively classical during the day. So if you want to broaden people's horizons, you may want to avoid Classicism for a while. Remember that Mozart's popularity is greatly exaggerated! You can see evidence of this if you go into a conservatoire and start asking the students whether they find Mozart enjoyable or not.

#450671 - 01/08/08 01:42 AM Re: What NOT to start newcomers on?  
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DestinysPuppet - Well written! That's basically how I got into classical as well. Curiousity caused me to buy a random Beethoven CD, listening to it while walking to school every morning eventually revealed it's beauty to me.

#450672 - 01/08/08 04:00 AM Re: What NOT to start newcomers on?  
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wr Offline
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Actually, I've heard more than one person say that it was hard-core 12-tone serialist stuff that was their entry point into classical music, so I think this idea of list of what you must avoid while doing your evangelical pandering of CM is doomed.

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