Sunday, August 13, 2006

Developing an Appreciation of Classical Music

Classical music is at once one of the best known and least understood forms of music, and many music fans who feel they would never like classical music are surprised at just how enjoyable it can be.

Of course, classical music can take a great many forms, and not every music fan will appreciate every kind of classical music. To some people, classical music is best enjoyed in a crowded concert hall, with a glass of wine and good company. To others, the best classical music is enjoyed alone, perhaps in a darkened room with a great stereo system. Still others will enjoy making their own classical music in the company of family and friends, perhaps playing their own piano or enjoying a night out.

For those who are unfamiliar with classical music, there are many places to begin your classical education. One of the best places to start to learn about classical music is with your local public radio station. Just about every market in the country has at least one public radio station, and many public radio stations have extensive classical music programming during their broadcast day. In addition, the announcers on these stations are usually quite well versed in all aspects of classical music, so if you have a question about the art form they are a great place to start.

In addition to public radio, the many internet radio stations are a great way to introduce yourself to the world of classical music. There are a great many classical music stations on the internet, including many sub genres, such as classical guitar or classical piano. Scanning the music available at these sources is a great way to explore the breadth of classical music available and get started on your own appreciation.

For some listeners, an appreciation of classical music will come almost immediately, while for others it may take quite some time to develop an ear for the nuance and style that classical music represents.

The time you take learning about classic music will be time well spent, though, and you may learn more than you ever intended about one of the oldest forms of music in the world. Classical music has been with us for centuries, and chances are good that it will be with us for centuries to come.

While other forms of music, from country and rock and roll to hip hop and rhythm and blues, may not be around five hundred years from now, chances are good that our great, great, great, great, great grandchildren will still be enjoying piano recitals, chamber music and other kinds of classical music.

By: Mike Freemen

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Why Does a Conductor Wave His Arms?

Before starting my conducting career, I often wondered “What is so difficult about standing up in front of a choir and waving your arms? ‘Seems as if anyone with a modicum of rhythm could do that.”

The simple answer is: “Indeed, anyone with rhythm and a knowledge of the music can wave his or her arms and direct a song.” But - the performance is the easy part.

What most people don’t realize (nor did I until rather late in life) is that the importance of the director or conductor is manifest long before the audience ever sees the performance. The most important role of the music director is to study the musical score in detail, anticipating sections that may cause trouble for the musicians, making minor “director’s interpretation” changes, and then causing the ensemble to make a beautiful sound. Beautiful music does not just happen; the director makes it happen. And the better the director, the better the sound. A good director can take a mediocre band and improve its sound significantly.

She takes the performing forces that are available to her, and through repetition-and-correction, correction-and-repetition, ensures that each musician is playing or singing the right notes, coming in at the right time, cutting off at the correct time, breathing at the proper time, going loud (or soft) at the same time, and speeding up or slowing down together. Additionally, vocal ensembles fuss with such issues as proper enunciation so that their words can be understood by the audience. Vocalists also have to worry about such nuances as the “color” of their sound – is it “dark and mysterious” or “light and airy.”

“A cappella” choirs – those that sing without accompaniment – have an even more difficult task. To be good, they must be even more precise than an accompanied chorus. If even one voice comes in early (or leaves late), it will stand out very noticeably. Good acappella singing also requires a purer sound because it does not have instrumental assistance to enhance the natural sound of the voice. And the pitch must be perfect.

Whenever we see a clown act, it looks as if it would be easy to be silly. “Anyone could do that.” But serious clowns rehearse and rehearse their “stunts” until they can do them flawlessly, and seemingly spontaneously. Good musical performers do exactly the same. The beauty of the sound during a performance is directly proportional to the amount of effort exerted during rehearsals.

And as a final bit of trivia, you may have wondered the difference between a “director” and a “conductor.” A “conductor” is one who directs an orchestra or chorus. A “director” does the same. The terms are often used synonymously; however, the term “conductor” is normally reserved for directors of symphonic orchestras and choruses.
So, the next time you enjoy a musical performance, realize the importance of the director/conductor in making it pleasing to you. Waving his arms is the easy part.