I was giving a pre-concert talk a few months back at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and explaining in great detail a 12-tone piece - it's form, the background of the composer's approach and how the piece fits into an historical context, etc, etc.
One of the regular concert-goers walked up after the talk and said it was so interesting and illuminating, but in the end he just didn't like how the music made him feel.
Anne Midgette in the Washington Post writes about this phenomenon: "You have two extremes in classical music: on the one hand, the elaborate program note filled with facts and information about the piece, and on the other hand the blunted reaction of the listener after the fact: 'it sounds pretty.' "
How do you judge music? Is it the facts and figures that help the music come alive or do you prefer to simply let your ears determine if you like a piece or not? Or is it a combination of the two?
Although I am an engineer and by nature very analytical, I don't approach music with that attitude. How it sounds to my ear and my soul is everything. Which perhaps explains why I was drawn to DeKoven's "Baracoco Society" many years ago.
When I listen to MPR's classical music (which is where all my radios are permanently tuned), there sometimes comes on music that does not sound 'sweet' to me and then I go over to one of my CDs. Personal preference.
I am not a musician or musically trained (except for a short stint in a Scottish pipe band). but that does not stop me from enjoying the sound of music.
Pre-concert talks, program notes, music history and musicology courses as well as harmony and structure analysis etc.etc. are all interesting, and I've listened to them, studied them, read them for over 50 years. But in the end, they do little to improve one's listening skills, and listening is the ONLY thing that REALLY matters in music (other than performing it). If you are the least bit pre-occupied, even with intellectual tidbits that pertain to the music, let alone the dress of the performer, you've missed part of it. Your mind needs to be empty and your eyes closed, to be totally involved with listening. That's why radio and CDs are so great: it's much easier to let go of everything in a quiet place than when surrounded by hundreds of people in a large hall.
On the other hand, there is nothing like a live performance, so we have to train at home to become good listeners and to find out what we like and dislike. One live performance of a piece is not going to do it. You may dislike a piece/composer because your neighbor snored or because you had a fight with your wife that day. Listen to it again at home, and your initial reaction may be confirmed---or not.
I have been a music lover for as long as I can remember. Naturally I began with Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Franck and Brahms. I recall thinking that Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart must have something worthwhile to offer, so I listened to them enough to include them in my list of favorites. From there on I went on to enjoy, no rejoice in, all of the masters of music up to Shostakovich.
When it came to the new composers, I could never connect with them. It looks like I am stuck with the great composers of the past. As for Pop music, I can't even imagine what anyone sees in thatg. I guess I am stuck with Gershwin, Rogers and Porter.
Experienced either intellectually or emotionally, music can be satisfying, fascinating, moving. Experienced both emotionally and intellectually, music is transcendent. Give me both!
Facts may be informative and do help in understanding the composition and style etc. But how it sounds to me, how a piece 'strikes my soul' at the moment I hear it is what I react to.
As a music teacher of many years, I think back to my college days and liking a contemporary piece of music because of its innovative sound( being a bit of a music rebel myself), not because it sounded good to most ears. As I have gotten older, I know which composers are my favorites-typically those who wrote before atonal music became the vogue and now just sit back, listen, enjoy and say, "AH".