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IS MUSIC AN ACQUIRED TASTE?

March 16, 2012

There is something that I have been thinking about on the “surface” level for the past several days since hearing an interview with a beloved CBC radio host who is retiring after many years of being on air. This is a host for whom I have much appreciation. I have listened to, met in person and enjoyed speaking with her. Something was said in a final interview that has stayed with me for some reason. This is not a direct quote since I cannot recall the specific words but something to this effect was said:“classical music does nothing for me”. Yes, I know and agree that everyone has a right to have their own opinion about the music that they love. I also know that in my case I am lucky that the music I love today “came” to me after a somewhat slow start i.e. I did not like it when I first was exposed to it.

“Jazz” to me was a cacophony when I first heard it being played instrumentally in a live setting and on recordings as well. I couldn’t make sense of it and I certainly could not understand how my friends (classical musicians) were so enamoured with it. It was classical music that I loved and studied and it was the rock and pop music of my generation played on the radio that I was drawn to. Somehow over the years I did come to truly appreciate jazz in most of its incarnations and I continue to love and listen to classical music, folk music some pop and rock music and some world music. I am lucky to have had teachers and friends who kept suggesting various recordings and artists to listen to and to learn from. I’m glad I listened and that I decided to “work” on my listening and listening tastes.

I try to remember to keep an open mind and not to judge what I am hearing too quickly. The concern I have is that I am aware that both jazz and classical music seem to be failing at attracting larger audiences. I see this when I am attending some jazz concerts and classical concerts and of course I am aware that jazz clubs and venues come and go over the years with the poor club owners struggling to keep their business afloat. I observe diminishing audiences for classical concerts with fewer younger people attending.

Now, I see a new responsibility for myself as a musician and as a music teacher. I must assume that many people in the general population may feel as the radio host does, only loving or appreciating one form of music. I believe it is important to broaden ones horizons in the music that we listen to on recordings and at concerts. I believe that it is important at a cultural and community level to at least explore and experience some music and art that is not necessarily familiar or immediately appreciated by us as music lovers. That is not to say that all art or all music is good and deserving of an audience.
Certainly within each most genres the crème de la crème will rise? Is it naïve for me to think so? I hope not.

I hope that if I attend a jazz festival and listen to artists I have discovered on the radio and on recordings I have purchased that I will also then make an attempt to see new artists that I have not yet discovered; perhaps selecting a direction in the music that I am not immediately drawn to. The example would be deciding to attend an adventuresome jazz ensemble not playing traditional jazz, i.e. exploratory improvising jazz or “free form” jazz. It is my opinion that without expanding ones horizons in the area of music we purchase or go to see/hear, we cease to grow as listeners and might become stuck in believing that only John Coltrane is valid or Miles Davis or Brad Meldau etc. and that classical music has “nothing to offer”.

As a music teacher I believe I must keep offering my students various forms of music to study and encourage them to give certain pieces some time before deciding whether or not they like it. Some may wonder why people keep playing and listening to the “old dead guys music” (classical music) but there is a reason that we do continue to study the music and perform it and work at the skills required to do so. The melodies, rhythms, excitement, emotional range, complex orchestrations, challenges in technical ability, dynamics and surprise elements are some of the reasons.

In jazz of course we have the world of improvisation, the re-invention in the moment that exists in playing in ensembles or even as a soloist. I believe great jazz musicians share some of the very same skills that classical musicians work at achieving. The “cacophony” I thought I heard in my early days of hearing jazz when I thought none of the musicians were listening to each other was in fact careful listening from each of the musicians. Perhaps I was overwhelmed with what I heard at the time and I had to learn to truly hear it and understand. Perhaps some classical music requires the same care and “practice” so that the music can make sense to the listener? I am not sure about this. I just think that both classical and jazz music are too important to be ignored or judged with a swift decision.

It is all music! It requires facility, commitment, artistry, interpretation, listening ability and endless practice to perfect one’s technical and artistic sensibility. Unfortunately one other thing that jazz musicians and classical musicians share is the fact neither is the “popular” form of music now-a- days.

I encourage people new to either genre to try a taste of jazz AND classical music. Try a few tastes in fact because, sometimes music could be an acquired taste. You might fall in love with a flavor you didn’t initially like at all…

4 comments

  1. Terrific post, Karin! I admit that although I love vocal jazz, there is a whole lot of the genre that I just don’t “get”… yet! I think more of it “makes sense” than it used to, so that’s progress. 🙂 You comment about keeping an open mind and not judging too quickly is great.


  2. Big ears and an open mind — the only real music is good music.


  3. Hi Karin,
    Thought I’d chime in (regardless of musical genre) that I really enjoyed reading this – and that an ensemble I co-lead, Turning Point, is presenting a program on April 1st with music by Ellington (arr. Fred Stride), Stravinsky, and new music by Brad Turner and Dave Douglas (all composers and arranger in attendance). The program is an opportunity to listen to great music that has inspiration in both jazz and classical. My hunch is that our audience will enjoy some of it, not other parts – but hopefully remain curious and open to the wonderful music we can create and make in our community. info at http://www.turningpointensemble.ca

    Thanks for “thinking out loud” to continue the hunt for meaningful music whereever it may be found,
    – Jeremy Berkman


    • Hi Jeremy: I am finally getting a chance to send you a note and tell you that Sunday night’s concert with the TURNING POINT ENSEMBLE was brilliant and I enjoyed every single minute. I must confess that more than anything I was deeply moved by Brad Turner’s new work. I found it exceptional. That being said I loved hearing such a diverse program of music and so lovingly played. How fun to see and hear some musicians that I know from other groupings and genres come together to play at such a high level of skill and interpretation. Thanks Jeremy for being a director of the TURNING POINT ENSEMBLE and bringing this wonderful music to Vancouver audiences. I know that the concert was recorded so surely a much wider audience will also get to hear the magic made last Sunday evening!! I’ll be sure to spread the word once the broadcast date is announced…



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