Friday, February 26, 2010

An education

The previous post touched on the haphazard way we build up our music collections, which got me thinking about how one could go about producing a non-haphazard music collection. When I was operating Nereffid's Guide I always had a fantasy of someone saying they knew zero about classical music and needed me to shepherd them along the path. What would you do, if you had that chance to mentor someone? Where would you begin? Where would it end? These are thought experiments rather than blueprints for a perfect world.
First, there's the semi-non-haphazard method as seen by those Marshall Cavendish Great Composers series or the "starter collections" suggested in books or on the web: pick a fixed number of masterpieces, and get each one. That's the most realistic way of doing things, though of course there'll always be room for debate over what should be included. Some styles or periods will end up being better represented than others.
A quite different approach would be what I mentioned in the previous post: the well-put-together compilation album. Focus on composers, rather than works. An hour, or a CD length, or 100 minutes, or whatever, for each one. Obviously not one for the purists because it would mean picking individual movements, but this is just a means to an end. The other controversial aspect is that your Bachs and Beethovens get equal time to your Telemanns and Hummels. But at least it offers a broader perspective on the world of music. It's more of a "listen without prejudice" approach. Possibly your pupil might mentally rewrite history if they're not, as it were, obliged to consider composer A to be more worthy than composer B.
As an extension of that notion, one thing I'd love to try - but completely unfeasible - is a collection built up in chronological order. First your pupil listens to chant, then the Notre Dame school, the troubadours, and on and on. This way, they hear music evolve over the centuries. The beauty of this is that everything is heard in the context of what came before it. The big drawback is that the listener won't like each period equally and might be resistant to certain musical developments. They might prove to be a medieval conservative, for instance. "I don't like this Ars Nova! Why do they have to use these crazy rhythms?" They might not want to go on. You'd need a very willing pupil. But in the name of science (or art, whichever), I think it needs to be tried.

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