How I Found Classical Music, Despite Growing Up in Redneckville

I wonder how a guy from the country like me came to be so interested in classical music (primarily 20th century modern classical). I never heard it growing up, ever. I knew no one who listened to it and I wasn’t encouraged by anyone I knew, including my own family (my father, who don’t get me wrong, is an intelligent man, called it “elevator music”). There was no internet yet, and there weren’t any stores near me that sold it. The only place to hear it was on a scratchy NPR station on my bedside clock radio, and very rarely would you hear anything remotely modern there.

When I was about 12 I recall a friend of my father’s (a blue collar guy who hunted deer like all his buddies) told everyone he had gotten into opera. People made fun of him, for a couple weeks I recall, probably including myself at the time.

In my teenage years I listened to pop and rock like most teenagers. But at some point I realized, unconsciously at first, that verse-chorus wasn’t enough anymore. I’m still sick of the traditional verse-chorus song structure, and guitars and drums are pretty limited in color and scope too.

When I was about 18-19 I starting buying those (mostly terrible) “best of” classical CD’s you see in most big box stores. “Best of Mozart,” “Best of Chopin,” etc. Recordings by unknown performers and conductors, often collections of mere parts of larger works, but I do think at the time they exposed me to the music. Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” was an early favorite.

I recall my first year of college (’99) I was walking through a Borders bookstore (R.I.P.) and not even looking at the CD’s when my eye happened upon a copy of Mahler’s 6th “Tragic.” I even recall the CD, later purchased, it was Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. Up to that point I was so little exposed to modern classical music I had no idea classical could be “tragic.” Certainly you wouldn’t get that impression listening to the “best of” Mozart or Vivaldi!

That first year of college was also my first year on the internet. I spent a lot of money on music as most people do at that age. I was impressed by Mahler, and I wanted to find more of this dark/serious classical music and the internet led the way. I recall buying the symphonies of Rachmaninov, Sibelius and the last three of Tchaikovsky all in one day, from 2 different stores (both R.I.P. now).

Eventually I would discover Shostakovich, Pettersson, Bruckner, Vaughan Williams, Bax and other late-romantic and 20th century composers. I was home.  Here was music of complexity and deep emotion.  Durable music that could be heard over and over which always reveals something new.

Of course now with YouTube, iTunes (and file sharing sites) if you have an internet connection and a smidgen of computer knowledge you can find almost anything that’s been recorded. I feel fortunate to have been exposed to this music. I feel fortunate to live in a time when we have recorded music at all. Being able to listen to music in pristine sound quality cheaply and at home is a relatively new phenomenon in human history. Backing up thousands of CDs on a hard drive no larger than your average paperback novel is even more recent.

I think some people just have a natural tendency toward classical. I think this has to be the case with me, given the odds against it happening. I could be listening to Travis Tritt right now like most people from Paulding County Georgia, but I’m not. Because of this I really consider classical music to be “mine” in the same way someone will consider something to be theirs which they acquired through hard work.

The bias against classical music comes from a few areas. It has a reputation of cultural elitism, which in America is one of the worst things you can be perceived as. If someone is rich, but a “man of the people” that’s OK. That’s why a presidential candidate will never talk about his love for Beethoven, and that’s why many subway terminals play classical music to keep “certain people” from hanging around — and it works. It also has to do with American culture’s focus on practicality; because classical music just isn’t profitable in a monetary sense it’s looked down upon and not promoted. And by the time people are finished with their day, they usually want some light entertainment, I understand.

The music you listen to says a lot about you. I recall reading a study of personality traits linked with different musical genres, and how these traits cross national and ethnic lines. [1]



My “music personality test” results:

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One Response to How I Found Classical Music, Despite Growing Up in Redneckville

  1. Pingback: Snooty Arts Majors and Locking Away Arts from the Masses | andy9279

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