How to listen to classical music

It’s funny how consistent the comments are when folks discover I host a classical music program on WTJU. “Wow, you must be smart to listen to classical music.” “I guess you have to know a lot about classical music to appreciate it.” “I don’t have a degree in music, so I just listen to [insert any other musical genre here].”
Well, none of that needs to be true. I’ve always said you just have to listen with open ears and an open mind. Embrace the works that move you, and pass on the ones that don’t. Never mind about what you think you “should” like, or what the experts think are the non plus ultra. It’s just between you and the music.

But you do have to listen, or you’ll completely miss out on what could be a life-changing experience.

And that’s part of the point Benjamin F. Carlson made in his Atlantic post aptly titled “The Secret to Classical Music: It’s Just Music.” He writes:

My thesis is that people aren’t listening [to classical music] because they haven’t had the right introduction, and because of the image. In today’s world, the lovely words “opera” and “symphony” are redolent with snobbery. As I know too well, liking the music is seen as a bit eccentric, if not geriatric, pretentious, and politically reactionary: a bit like wearing furs or an ascot as a twentysomething.

I hope we can get past that. Classical music is old, but it isn’t for old men. The music survived because it is some of the best work humans have done in four centuries. For the thrill of a late-Beethoven trill, it’s worth getting past the admittedly stuffy, stagey conventions. Besides: the post-modern mind has a genius for stripping things—whether mutton-chops or sitars or kheffiyehs—from their context. It’s time Bach, author of the most face-melting harpsichord riffs known to man, came in for his turn.

Carlson’s post kicks off a series he’s writing to introduce his fellow twentysomethings to the joys of classical music — without the baggage. I’m looking forward to it, and so should you. Whether your a full-blown classical music nerd like myself or just a casual listener, there’s a lot to gain by looking afresh at the assumptions underlying your listening habits.

And he’s right — classical music isn’t just for old men. Heck, it’s not even just for men.

More Recent Posts

  • Charming Disaster on Back Up and Push, Oct 24

    Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris, known collectively as Charming Disaster, return to the WTJU studios this Monday afternoon, October 24, around 4:30 (edt).  Later that evening you can catch them at the Blue Moon Diner in Charlottesville (details). Charming Disaster, a musical duo based in Brooklyn, NY, features indie bandleaders Ellia Bisker of Sweet Soubrette […]

  • Music of Ursula Mamlok, Vol. 5 — A study in contrasts

    Volume five of Bridge Record’s Ursula Mamlok survey is a study in contrasts. Mamlok moved from a neo-classical style at the start of her career in the 1940s to a highly personal version of atonality by the time of her death in 2016. This release presents some of Mamlok’s earliest compositions, as well as some […]

  • Daryl Shawn stops by Around This Town, Oct 18

    Daryl Shawn will stop by WTJU this Tuesday afternoon, October 18, around 4:30 (edt) for a visit ahead of his gig that evening at the Blue Moon Diner (details). Daryl Shawn blends the guitar chops of flamenco and classical with a modern songwriter’s sensibility and the energy of rock. Shawn grew up among Amish farms […]

  • Farm Use on Atlantic Weekly I, Oct 22

    Farm Use String Band will stop by WTJU this Saturday morning, October 22, around 9 (edt) for a visit ahead of their gig later that afternoon at Albemarle CiderWorks (details).

  • László Lajtha Series Starts Strong

    László Lajtha, along with colleagues Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály collected folk music in his native Hungary. Their aim was to not only preserve their cultural heritage but incorporate it into their own music. Lajtha may be the least famous of the three, but his music can be just as rewarding to listen to. Lajtha […]

  • Bumper Jacksons on Lambeth Live at IX, Oct 28

    Lambeth Live ventures outdoors for the remainder of October, as WTJU broadcasts three great nights of concerts live from IX Art Park (522 2nd St SE, Charlottesville) as part of the Levitt Amp Charlottesville Music Series (presented by WTJU!).  It closes out with the Bumper Jacksons this Friday, October 28. Lambeth Live is heard each […]