Saturday, May 14, 2011

Process and Discovery

Lately I've been reading The Rest is Noise by Alan Ross. I haven't been keeping up with my normal average of reading 2-3 books a week. No, I've been reading this one since February 26th.

Why am I taking so long?

The answer is twofold: the process of reading, and what I've discovered as I go along.

First, the process. The subtitle of the book is "Listening to the 20th Century," and the focus of the book has been about 20th century classical music. I know little about classical music, and even less about more recent classical music. Names like Beethoven, Bach and Mozart were much for familiar to me before picking up this book than names like Strauss, Mahler, and Messaien. So I challenged myself to listen to the ten recommended recordings from an appendix as I went through the book. Every time I came across the description of one of these recordings, I would stop and listen to it. Besides often not bringing the book along if I thought that I would reach a stopping point when I still had plenty of time to read, I often stopped to listen to hour-long symphonies or 2-hour long operas. I have to say, it's really made the reading experience richer. I would have enjoyed the history that permeates the story of classical music in Germany, France, and the United States, for example, without having listened to the CD. But I've also started to hear what dissonance sounds like, to realize how depressing operas apparently are (does anyone know of a happy one? I'd love to hear it), and started to gain an appreciation for composers I'd never listened to before.

Which leads to the second part: discovery. I have only about 50 pages left now, and I know that my "reading" of The Rest is Noise will continue beyond its pages. As a direct result of reading the book and listening to the recommended CDs, I've already started to discover beyond the book's pages. One of the recordings I listened to was "Appalachian Spring." I really enjoyed the music, and was intrigued enough by the page-long synopsis in the book to look into the 1958 videorecording of the ballet. The particular DVD I was able to get from the library was actually about Martha Graham, the choreographer of the ballet for whom Aaron Copland had written "Appalachian Spring." I'm almost ashamed to say it, but... I'd never heard of her before. So not only did I watch the 1958 recording, I also watched some of the extras, including a PBS broadcast about Martha Graham and a comparison of the 1958 with the 1944 choreography. This was fascinating stuff!

And this is just one example. I'm going to keep the list of the "20 more recommended recordings" from the appendix to eventually listen through. I've made a note of a handful of composers, such as Mahler and Stravinsky, whose music I enjoyed enough to want to listen to more. I want to know more about classical music before the 20th century. I want to learn more about music theory in general. I want to read Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, a book that I've owned for awhile and never read.

Because with reading, one thing leads to another. This is just one of the many reasons I will never run out of reading material...because I'll never run out of things I want to learn!

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