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:
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.)