How To Listen To (and enjoy!) Classical Music

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Jingle Jangle Jungle’s Guest Blogger Series
Week 33

Today's Guest is Julie of Julie and Kelly:

We are Kelly and Julie - two friends who met while studying music in grad school. We bonded over our love of travel, church, and cute little French cafes that serve amazing ham-and-brie sandwiches and chocolate mousse. Now we live thousands of miles apart, but thanks to the internet we can share our music-teacher-tales with each other and the rest of the world!

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How To Listen To (and enjoy!) Classical Music
by Julie

Classical music can be daunting, especially if you've never studied it. The majority of "regular folks" in the world do not attend classical concerts, and the ones who do often find themselves nodding off. What I love about classical music is that there is so much more involved than just beautiful music. Here are just a few things you should consider when listening to classical music or attending a classical music concert.

Remember that everything - political, social, economic, personal, etc. - influenced how a composer wrote and what he wrote about.

Example: Mahler was highly influenced by the premature death of his beloved daughter, Verdi composed during the Italian revolution, and Chopin longed for his home country. All of these sentiments can be found in their music.

Find out when and where the composer lived (better yet, if you know which piece you'll be hearing, find out the exact year that he wrote that piece) and what was happening in the world and in his specific country at that time.

Sometimes composers write music based on actual events that have happened. The most obvious ones are Requiems (in memory of someone who has died), but other times there may have been an unrequited love affair, a moving poem, the birth of a child, or some other event that inspired musical composition. Find out what that was and try to hear it in the music.

Example: Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11, "The Year 1905," depicts scenes from the Russian Revolution. You can hear first the falling snow, then the march of the soldiers, the bloody violence, and the inconclusive results, which foreshadow future events in the revolution.

Most classical music tells a story, even if it's only instrumental. As you listen, try to imagine what the story might be. Make notes in your program or draw pictures to help you as you create your story. You might find yourself lost in a land of magic, rather than falling sleep! Keep in mind that strings are associated with romance and humanism, woodwinds are associated with nature, and brass and percussion often depict military scenes. If you are listening to an opera in another language, try to read the story before hand, and follow along with the translations in your program.

And a silly picture, just for fun:

Thanks for reading and I hope it was helpful.

Thank you, Julie, for being today’s Guest!

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