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New Music (NOT the John Cage kind)

So, I found something cool this morning. A really neat examination both of the mathematical complexity that is even our relatively limited 12-tone system (as opposed to the Eastern systems that give quarter tones) and the relatively rigid pathways that our brains tend to want to force music into.

I would love to be better educated about Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and other cultural music styles to start understanding how much, if any, of this is common. Training and experience has a great deal to do with music appreciation. I’ve had personal experience with this many times throughout my training and afterwards. For example, I would never ever have considered Edgard Varèse’s ‘Hyperprism’ a masterpiece prior to my education in 20th century music, but I love it now.

I think it’s fascinating that that is the case. I’ll also freely admit to not being able to fully enjoy all the kinds of music I could before my training. There are certain types and specific examples of popular music that I can’t totally immerse myself in, not because they’re necessarily awful (some of them are, of course), but more often because the way I’ve been trained to listen for structure, motif, and ideas lets me see the truly commercial and banal ones for what they are. You know the kind, the absolutely bland, cotton candy type of music that was mixed mostly digitally for the express purpose of getting a few dollars out of people who don’t know why they buy it, but it hooks onto their brain so that they do. Sort of like the way I don’t drink pop very often anymore – after you’ve been without the sugar- and otherwise-bad-stuff-loaded-beverage for a few years, going back to it once in a while is okay, but reminds you why you don’t drink it very much in the first place.

I was telling a good friend recently that I’m less likely now to find a band as a whole amazing, and much more likely to gravitate to individual works, which I think is another effect of that experience. I don’t generally like rap as a rule, but there are some things I appreciate individually from the music of Eminem or Macklemore; country generally makes me feel blah, but my word if Carrie Underwood doesn’t have a HELL of a set of pipes.

Anyways, regardless of what music you prefer, remember that there’s a lot of music out there (in fact, so much space for new music that we’ll never run out!), so give something you didn’t really think you’d like a try, and see what ends up surprising you. I’ll even pitch in some recommendations on the ‘classical’ (ugh, that word is inelegant for what I really mean) side for those readers who might not have as much experience with it.

Recommendations for various types of fans:

– if you are a fan of folk music, please check out Bela Bartok, who basically made a living out of finding folk tunes and trying to get them out to a wider audience.

– if you like metal, check out the original shredder himself, J.S. Bach. No I am not joking. Seriously, my grade 6 students who were into dubstep absolutely loved Bach because of the nuts organ improvising he’s capable of. Just look up any of his solo works for organ (Toccata & Fugue in D Minor is as always a great one to start with).

– if you are more into the power ballad/romantic pop type of thing, Beethoven, Debussy, and Tchaikovsky might be more your style. Everyone knows Beethoven’s 5th and 9th Symphonies, but I’m a big proponent of String Quartet No. 15 in A Minor Op. 132, as well as pretty much anything by Debussy. Clair de lune is my favourite solo piano piece of all time (my mother performed that one regularly, and beautifully).

– finally, an off-beat one. If you are a fan of things like Weird Al, or parody cover groups, please check out Franz Joseph Haydn. Sounds a little weird, I know, since he’s High Classical, but I have trouble thinking of another composer who liked to mess with his audience than Haydn. He does these things where he knows you expect a waltz to have a strong beat on one. ONE-two-three-ONE-two-three, etc… So what he does is completely blanks out beat one in one of his string quartets. Completely abandons the convention, just to mess with you. The Surprise Symphony (look it up, it’s amazing) is another classic example of ‘heh, gotcha!’.

Happy listening!

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