Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A musical education

Everybody has a favorite genre of music. Mine happens to be classical.

While there are many different genres of music I enjoy -- folk, bluegrass, Irish/Celtic, John Denver, once in awhile 60s or 70s rock -- my heart belongs to classical music. There's just something about it that sends my soul soaring.

For years I listened to the only local classical station I could get on the radio, KAGU 88.7 out of Gonzaga University in Spokane. First thing in the morning, I would turn on the radio to a low volume and allow the music to softly play all day long, until I turned the radio off just before bed. The family learned to tolerate this peculiarity.

But the station isn't very powerful and way out here in the boondocks it's often hard to get. Unless the radio dial was precisely at 88.7, I would get bleed-through with another, much stronger station (at 88.5 on the dial) that would completely eradicate Mozart or Beethoven with some truly awful stuff. A few months ago it got so bad that I ceased listening to the radio altogether because I couldn't get the station at all. For that period of time the house was eerily quiet.

Then my girls introduced me to and I was hooked. (For those unfamiliar with the website, it allows you to listen to free music of whatever genre you choose.) I (cough) "borrowed" Older Daughter's computer speakers (and -- cough -- haven't returned them yet) and am now happily listening to my beloved composers once again. Because I hated the strident and abrupt interruptions when Pandora played advertisements, I paid a yearly fee (I think it was $36) for ad-free service.

Recently as a family we've been watching the superb BBC production "The Story of Music" by Howard Goodall, available on YouTube. (Mr. Goodall's intro remarks conclude with, "There are a million ways to tell the story of music. This is mine.") While we've only watched four of the episodes so far, I am finding them fascinating.

After forty years of being a classical music buff, I'm suddenly receiving a more advanced musical education. With a radio, I'm subject to the whims of either pre-taped music or a deejay's preferences. If I'm lucky, a piece is announced at the beginning and the end, so often I couldn't catch who wrote what. But on Pandora, I can see who the composer is, learn when he (or she) wrote the music, and begin to pinpoint the styles and periods I prefer.

And thanks to the BBC "Story of Music" series, I'm learning what made each musical period distinctive. I never realized, for example, how much I specifically enjoy the Baroque composers. I've always loved Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven, of course, but now I'm discovering the beautiful precision sounds of Albinoni, Corelli, Telemann, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, and the like.

Mr. Goodall tells how the people during this Age of Invention (Baroque) were obsessed with cogs and wheels and laws of gravity and other scientific marvels. Music was not immune from this widespread discovery of order and motion, hence the precise, chord-rich works of the Baroque composers. The enormous advances of clockmaking -- with the need for intensely precise gears, cogs, wheels, and timing -- is no accident, and neither is the precise and beautiful works of music that came out of this era.

The Baroque period was also the beginning of the full, lush orchestral sounds that characterized Mozart, Beethoven, and Handel's greatest and most familiar works. In short, this Age of Invention was a major stepping stone in classical music as we understand it today.

So my musical education happily continues as I wade my way through the beautiful Baroque composers to my heart's content.



  1. I don't know if it still occurs, but when I lived in Coeur d'Alene, Spokane would have a performance of Handel's Fireworks Orchestra every summer, normally in July. It was a free concert at Riverfront Park. Bring a blanket and whatever consumables you wish, lay back, watch the fireworks and listen to the music.

    It was one of the best musical experiences I've ever had.

    1. Oooh, thank you -- I'll have to look into that!

      Many years ago (early 80s) I had a summer job near Lafayette, Indiana. For Independence Day, the city held a picnic and sing-along with the orchestra in the park, followed by fireworks. We all sat on blankets and the conductor passed out sheets of lyrics so we all had the words and thousands of people sang vigorously. The orchestra played a variety of rousing patriotic songs, and then we all sat back and listened to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, complete with (I'm not kidding) real live cannons the army shot across the river at the appropriate times, and concluding with some massive church bells (I'm talking two and three feet tall) they brought in from an obliging church. Then they had fireworks. It's been 30 years since that night and I've NEVER forgotten it. It still sends chills down my spine. The whole evening was magnificent.

      - Patrice

  2. Thank you! I just visited Pandora Radio and selected classical for studying.... lovely.... the house even smells sweeter.

  3. If it's not Baroque, don't fix it. :)

  4. I'm a classical music fan, too. Thanks for the tip about the BBC series!

  5. This is a very enjoyable post, Patrice. I was never exposed to much classical music, but over the years your various posts and comments about it have drawn my interest, and this BBC series sounds like just the ticket to an expanded appreciation of the genre. Thank you!


  6. So glad you discovered Pandora. I love it too. Plays all day on my computer at work. Keeps me from killing my co-workers!

  7. I also love the classics, for me they are soothing, I find that my highly strung dogs are more mellow with most of the classics, although I agree they also have music that makes the soul soar.

  8. I, too, am a classical music devotee. We discovered streaming classical music a couple of years ago and are devoted to KBAQ in Phoenix (KBAQ.ORG). Their variety suits my tastes and their chatter is minimal. Even through not-very expensive computer speakers the sound quality is more than adequate for tghese old aviator's ears. Give it a try.

  9. A musical education, indeed. Patrice, this is fantastic! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will get to the Baroque period soon but I just got on to give Pandora a whirl and I wanted to do something unusual so, since I just got back from Yoga, I selected Yoga Workout Radio. I am so thrilled!!! It is a mixture of Celtic and Relaxation and Zen, etc. So soothing and invigorating at the same time..... I should pipe this out to the chicken house and give the girls a treat as well. 8-) Please thank your girls for me.

    God Bless,
    Janet in MA

  10. I also am addicted to classical music. Several years ago we moved away from the area where there was a strictly classical station that I loved. I had pined for it for three or four years when I happened to overhear a very Goth-styled girl ask another what was the number of the classical station. The other girl gave her the number which I rushed home to tune in to. You never know where you will find someone with similar tastes!

  11. A great classical music education can be enjoyed through lectures from The Teaching Company (The Great Courses). A master classical music professor named Robert Greenberg has a course called "Understanding Classical Music" -among others - that is just wonderful! Check the company out; they have great sales this time of year and sometimes free shipping. There are courses in science, math, history, music, art -just about every subject. These courses are good for pleasure or giving extra knowledge to your homeschooled kids. I used these courses in our home school high school.

  12. While not a big classical fan, I do appreciate it. I had a wonderful teacher in jr high who introduced us to music and art history. I appreciate all that Ms Simmons introduced me to, even if I didn't appreciate it at the time. Being a musician, I appreciate all types of music, but have my own favorites.

  13. Baroque for me as well! Perhaps due to my children having studied Suzuki violin and viola, where the repertoire is heavily Baroque.


    Music is important, this incredible woman proves it I think.
    Thanks for your wonderful blog.

  15. Try, no fees and allow you to play playlist all day long.