How to Actually Enjoy Classical Music (For Book Lovers)

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Classical music can be pretty boring.  Why would you choose to listen to something that long and that abstract? Lots of people try to figure out how to “understand” the music, but understanding is definitely not always the same as enjoying.

Of all people, I was perfectly primed to love classical music. I grew up with a professional classical musician as a father, was taken to numerous concerts, took piano lessons constantly ever since I was seven years old, and participated in chorus and band in high school. I even became a classical music major in college and had extensive formal training. And while I didn’t hate it or anything, I certainly didn’t love it.  Like so many people, I just didn’t “get” it.

So forget understanding.

How can you actually ENJOY classical music?

Believe it or not, it is possible.  As a book lover, I found the secret…

Books take you on adventures that spice up the monotony of everyday life.  They entertain us and spark our creativity.  You can curl up with a great book on a rainy day.  You can (or more accurately, absolutely have to) stay up late to find out what happens next.

But classical music tells stories, too.

Think of it this way:book-1171564_1920

When we describe characters we use adjectives: Victor Frankenstein is ambitious, Lizzie Bennett is prejudiced, and Gatsby is, among other things, rich. But we also use adjectives to describe music: it’s light and happy, or dark and foreboding, or triumphant and powerful. By using those types of words, we give the music characteristics like we would give an actual literary character. Similarly, we use verbs to describe actions: Peter Pan flies to the Neverland, Claudius murders Hamlet’s father, and Alice falls down the rabbit hole. But again, music also consists of actions in that it seems to skip away at times, or plod along at others.

When descriptions “match” between literature and music, then, you can imagine that character and/or that action as you listen.

The idea here is that at the beginning of a piece of music, you connect the musical character to a literary character or musical action to literary action by matching the descriptions. As the piece progresses and the music changes, you continue to connect to different characters or events from the same book.

I think the simplest way to think about it is to imagine that the piece you’re listening to is actually the score of a movie adaptation of a book. I know, I know—books turned into movies aren’t always the best…but here’s your chance to do it correctly inside your head. Who would be on the screen? What would they be doing? You’re basically reverse engineering the story.

Bonus Tip: It’s best to start with short pieces and work your way up to longer ones (only if you want).

 

Here’s a piece to practice on.  It’s just one minute long! Tell me your story in the comments below.  Then everyone can compare their story with what other people imagined and see how the stories differ and what they all have in common.  It doesn’t have to be anything formal like a short story or anything and there’s no right answer! (I’ll share mine later.)

Imagine away.  

42 thoughts on “How to Actually Enjoy Classical Music (For Book Lovers)

  1. Oh, yes, I love how you describe music as telling a story. It does! Not necessarily a linear story with characters–though that’s certainly true, but it could be a story that paints a picture of emotion. I’m getting all giddy just thinking about it. Speaking of classical music, I spent this morning searching for classical pieces I could write to. Andante movements in minor keys worked best, especially by Schubert & Lizst, whereas but Mozart and Beethoven pieces were too distractingly melodic–to listen to while writing, that is, not in general. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! And I agree about the emotions and pictures. I like to think of those types of pieces as capturing a moment in time and magnifying it. It’s like a painting: it’s only capturing one moment or emotion, but it implies a larger story around it.

      I’ve also heard a lot of people say they like to use classical music to write with! I’m curious as to whether writing with different types of music affects the plot or what kind of words you use…

      Like

  2. I love classical music – for me, this is the most emotive and spectacular music in the world. I’m surprised you think it can be boring. I do come across people who presume it’s “for older people” and so dismiss it without listening to it properly, which is a grave mistake.

    I’m 31 have been addicted to it for a while: Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Schubert, Vivaldi… Mozart’s 600+ compositions alone will keep me busy for a lifetime and several of Vivaldi’s concertos are simply beyond belief.

    Each to their own, however, I do always celebrate different opinions! So long as someone isn’t a fan of rap music, which makes me physically ill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do think classical music gets a bad rap. It’s tempting to just let it wash over you without thinking, which does work sometimes but doesn’t at others (at least for me). Once I started actively listening I began to think like you!

      Also, I love Bach! As a pianist I would especially love playing a few movements of one of his partitas when life felt a bit overwhelming. The logic of his music is so refreshing to me!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Like you, I grew up with a classical musically-trained parent. My mom played piano and those complicated tunes and melodies still remind me of her flying fingers! And though I played flute for years it wasn’t until I was older that I really started to listen to classical music and fell in love with early music and Baroque.

    I sometimes use facts I learned about a composer or a particular piece of music to help me with images. Or the title of a piece, like Royal Fireworks or Water Music.

    I just tell people you don’t have to really know anything about classical music to enjoy it. Just listen and if you like it you’ll want to know more!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Aubrey: Props to you; you present a very creative, fresh approach to classical music — imagining that is the score to a famous literary work. As a graphic designer and writer, music is very critical to my work — it inspires me throughout the day as I work creatively. Classical music makes up a tiny portion of my very broad and eclectic music library. In my post, How Many Music Genres Exist?, I discovered that there are more than 1,650 music genres; so fortunately here is music to please everyone. Although classical music is an acquired taste, it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be the work of some very old and dead white guys. There are many crossover music genres that mix classical with world beats, trance, progressive rock, etc. So an entry point to appreciate classical music is to find artists who give it a modern twist. There are artists like Trans Siberian Orchestra (who put on one hell of a concert, BTW) and Enigma (impossible to categorize), and there is a fairly new genre called Trailer Music (as in cinematic trailer music) with artists like Thomas Bergersen, Immediate Music, Lorne Balfe (a protege of Hans Zimmer), James Dooley, E.S. Posthumus, and many others. Trailer music is very evocative of specific narratives; they also feature stunning vocal/chorus work. Check them out. Cheers. Alex

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! You have a very good point about starting with blended genres. I love Trans Siberian Orchestra! I also find it interesting that you bring up cinematic music because I have a strong hunch that so many people who don’t like classical music DO like movie scores because they’re following the narrative arc of the music. I think they’re connecting it either specifically or in a somewhat abstract sense to the movie’s plot. That’s one of the reasons I think purposeful storytelling through non-cinematic music can be so powerful!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aubrey: I am impressed that you know about TSO, since even though they are immensely talented and successful, they are non in the mainstream. What I love about cinematic music is that it is generally so evocative of universal themes, and hence, so inspirational. Especially if you are writing or creating work that is poignant or meaningful on a deeper level.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I definitely think there’s something about cinematic music that communicates with us in a very specific way! And I think it’s great to listen in different ways to get inspiration and such, as well.

        Like

  5. did no one else give their interpretation of the piece for you? i immediately saw a chase- the focus alternating between a man running up a flight of metal stairs and the female officer pursuing him- but no ordinary cop/criminal chase, there is a romantic connection that we have yet to learn because the piece broke off.

    I never appreciated classical music until i learned piano. except of course for bugs bunny cartoons.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think that classical music is calming and relaxing. Sometimes you can make a story by listening to the music. Where it changes in the tempo could lead to changes in a plot scene. My brother is very musical and plays the viola so I have been to concerts and surprisingly enjoyed myself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly! There are a lot of things that could indicate a change in plot and tempo is a great example! Classical music can also be the opposite of calming and relaxing, though, haha. Just like books there are all kinds of “moods” and stories out there by different composers which just convinces me more that music tells stories! Also, I love the viola. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I also play the saxophone and piano but I am not very good at piano whereas I love belting out tunes on the sax. Actually when me and my brother were kids we had to choose an instrument to play and I chose the saxophone because it was loud.😃

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha that’s a great reason to play an instrument. I just picked up the electric guitar so I can understand that. And I actually just finished an undergraduate degree in piano performance and my father is a saxophone professor! Small world.

        Liked by 1 person

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  17. A man in black 19th century clothes and a top hat is rushing across a field. He hesitates, stops sees a house in the field, runs around the rooms of the house, like a doll’s house, pokes his head out the roof and after a few blinks of the eye is looking from the house to the rugged cliffs and the sea.

    Liked by 1 person

      • My pleasure. With imaginative things its hard to be truly, “original.” I knew I was getting those images from other things I had read and seen. I’d just read some of your posts so I think that got the white rabbit running around into my head. Might have been something about time and Alice. And the house is part of that kind of landscape. Your choice of music was so conducive to doing this. Lovely idea. Thank you. Sorry this reply is so long after yours I actually just read your comment for first time !

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s interesting how our brains pick up associations from what we’ve recently come in contact with! And glad you enjoyed it! I love doing this kind of stuff. (No worries about long comments! I love chatting about this stuff so you can always post as long of a comment as you want haha.)

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Franz Liszt’s music always reminds of the movie A Dangerous Method, and I imagine scenes of early 1900s Switzerland. Quite the escapism. My parents used to have this CD called Best of Baroque and that got me really into harpsichord music at only thirteen or fourteen years old.

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