Introducing "The Classical 101" Project

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture delivered by Dr. Dominic AQUILA. It dealt with “rise and fall of classical music in America,” particularly in the context of American Public Radio.  He focused a great deal on Leonard Bernstein, whose Omnibus and Young People's Concerts series were, in Dr. Aquila’s opinion, important (if ultimately failed) attempts to bring classical music to the “masses.”

But I loved the idea, so here's my attempt at mass-bringing. 

This is an Introductory-Level Course on Listening To (and Loving) Classical Music. That's why I latched onto the whole "101" idea. (Well, that, and because I needed to have some number to aim for/reign me in, lest I go on to the thousands. I could. Easily.) Here's the 411:


You, if you're up for it. And me, your humble writer, with this enormous caveat: I have absolutely no credentials for undertaking such a project. None whatsoever. Sure, I took a music class in my college years, but is was more technical and theoretical than appreciative or comprehensive. And yes, I listen to more classical music than your average thirty-something-year-old. But other than that, there’s no particular reason for anyone to listen to what I have to say. This is “Classical Music From Dummies,” not “For.”

Hopefully, my amateurishness will prove to be of the Olympic variety, rather than conclusive support of the old adage that “There is nothing more dangerous than a sincere amateur.” But there's only one way to find out, right?



Weekly, hopefully. More frequently if I really get wound up. And less, if life gets in the way. Which it almost always does. But let's be optimistic, shall we? Especially here at the start.


When I say “Classical Music,” I’m talking (in an almost-hopelessly broad way) about the genre of “serious performance music.” From this meta-genre, I have picked one hundred and one of the pieces I consider most likely to appeal to a broad (and as-yet-untapped) audience.

Now, I listen to Pop Music a great deal. Folk music, as well. And I love almost all genres. But this task I have set myself

There are a number (OK, oodles) of my own foibles/tendencies on display here: there is no opera, for example. And there is a heavy emphasis on Herbert Von Karajan, and an equally heavy aversion to many of the more famous “period instrument” conductors.  (Nicholas Harnencourt, for example, will never make an appearance on any positive list I compile.  And Gardiner is only slightly more tolerated.)

(And like an idiot, I have ranked them. Why do I paint myself into this corner? If someone questions my ranking of a particular piece, curious as to why I have placed it above or below another equally particular piece, what will I say? And if I run across a piece of music I “MUST HAVE” on the list as me move through the 40s, what am I going to do? Leave it off altogether? How foolish is attempting a snapshot of this sort? What can I say: I’m obsessed with lists. In a very broad way, I consider the works towards the top of this list to be better examples of classical music. But if someone puts my feet to the fire and demands to know the basis for my rankings, I will direct them to the next point on my list.


How do I think someone can come to appreciate (and love) classical music? The only way one comes to love any kind of music. By LISTENING to it.

I’ve had countless conversations about the philosophy of music. I’m not interested in that here. In fact, I’m not particularly interested in that anywhere. Telling someone that the music I listen to is morally or philosophically (or mathematically) superior to theirs does not interest me. I think it’s am essentially impossible task, because even if someone were convinced of the ethical or intellectual value of a particular piece, music is (and should always be) a primarily emotional and sensory experience.

When I hear a piece of music I love, do I think that there are reasons underpinning that response that I can find and define in some meaningful way? Surely. Do I want to hear them that way? Almost never. I would much rather listen to and appreciate a piece than study why I appreciate it or justify my proclivity to listen to it. Which leads me to my final (and most important) point.


Why am I doing this? Because I love classical music. I love it passionately and without reservation. It has been as omnipresent a part of my life as my faith, as powerful an influence as my family, and as inseparable to my understanding of myself as my freedom.

And I want everyone to love it as much as I do.