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.

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