A while back, I was posting about how to explain classical music, and I said that if we really want to help people understand the music, our explanations of music need to:

1. Be emotionally engaging.

2. Provide a complete end-to-end listening guide through the music.

3. Not use terms that people don’t understand (unless you explain them).

Have a look at this video by famous conductor Benjamin Zander, as he (among other things) explains a prelude by Chopin. he doesn’t do it in any academic way, and you may not even realise he’s educating you, but in the space of 20 minutes, he applies all three of the above principles to the music he’s talking about.

I thought it was really well done. See what you think.

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2 thoughts on “Benjamin Zander Explains Music

  1. While I haven’t watched the whole 20 minutes yet, I see what you mean. It is engaging, it is comprehensive, and it is easy to understand. It’s interesting, though – over the past several weeks I’ve been on precisely the opposite musical journey – at last, after 50 years (well 40, really – I first discovered classical music when I was about ten years old) of listening almost exclusively to classical music, I decided it was time to branch out and listen to other music. So I have recently been immersing myself in jazz and alternative rock and death metal and electronic-post-grunge-progressive-garage-blues-rock-indie-folk-something-or-other and have actually found the journey to be amazing – a wealth of music that I had closed my mind to all this time, thinking of it as somehow “inferior”, the sort of thing you have in the background when you’re cleaning the house (or smoking dope) but would never really take seriously. I could not have been more wrong!! Some of the music I’ve been listening to is incredibly absorbing – music that can take you into the depths of yourself every bit as much as Mahler can, or music that can grab you by the throat and shake you, every bit as much as Wagner can, or music that can make you cry at the sad beauty of things, every bit as much as Schubert can.

    So the whole process has made me wonder what it is that allows us to be open to some types of music and not to others. For me, discovering non-classical music, I have looked for exactly the same three things that you mention on your list, Matt .. engaging explanations, descriptions that “walk me through” the music, and analyses that use language I can understand.

    So maybe, when all is said and done, the accessibility of msic is at least as much about the openess of our minds, as it is about the music itself, or the ways in which it is presented to us.

  2. Very much so. What the research indicates is that our musical taste is formed, not so much by us trying all forms of music and deciding which ones are best – but by going with what our friends listen to (or sometimes deliberately going against the grain of that).

    Either way, it means that we tend to pre-judge a lot of music before we’ve actually really engaged with it. When you approach music as a Musical Explorer, where you actually want to see what’s in it, you’ll find a lot more – as you’re clearly doing.

    There’s still going to be some music that is fundamentally better than others – it’s not an equal playing field – but you won’t be making snap judgments based on gut feeling.

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