New year, new ear: Getting into classical music

If you’re new to classical music, it can be hard to know where to dip your toe in.

After all, we’re talking about several centuries of music making (depending on how you define “classical” … but let’s not get hung up on that just yet!).

While it can be overwhelming at first, classical music is an incredibly powerful, universal medium for expressing the joy and pain of what it is to be a human. Are you a human? If so, read on!

You don’t need a tertiary music degree to get into classical – just a sense of curiosity and access to some recordings. To help you wade in, here are a few tips from the CSO office.

Start with the “classics”

Like any genre, the ‘greatest hits’ are a good place to start.

CSO double bass players, from left: Hayley Manning, David Flynn, Max McBride, Isabella Brown

CSO Double Basses (from left) Hayley Manning, David Flynn, Max McBride (Principal), Isabella Brown

“Find a classical ‘greatest hits’ playlist on Spotify or YouTube and work your way through it,” says David Flynn, CSO Double Bass and Ticketing Manager. “Make a note of what you like and skip anything you don’t – your tastes are your tastes.”

Be mindful of your mood, suggests Rachel Thomas, CEO. “Music that may feel busy and annoying one day can be rhythmic and make you want to dance on another.”

Remember: classical music is more than Mozart. Feel free to explore works by Australian composers, which reflect and respond to our time and place. (Hint – check out our Australian Series!). 

Choose your own adventure

Rachel Thomas, CEO

Once you’ve found something you like, go ahead and fall down that rabbit hole.

“Explore other works by that composer,” David suggests.

“Or other works within the genre – if you like a Tchaikovsky piano concerto, try one by Grieg or Rachmaninoff.”

You might also focus on a particular instrument.

“You’ll learn to hear different personalities in the sound if you become familiar enough,” Rachel says.

Get your money’s worth at concerts

With streaming services at our fingertips, chances are you can find at least some of the programmed music in advance. 

Andy Baird, Artistic Planning Manager

“Have a listen,” says Andy Baird, Artistic Planning Manager: “whether you carve out dedicated time or pop it on in the car or while you’re doing the dishes.”

Particularly for the longer works, having some familiarity will help you focus and be present during the concert, which will seem “more like a reunion with an old friend than meeting someone for the first time.”

Post-concert, dive in and debrief with your fellow patrons – don’t let anyone make you feel as though you aren’t qualified to have an opinion. “Music is subjective by nature,” Andy says. “Don’t be afraid  to assert you ‘preferred the Mahler over the Beethoven,’ or you ‘didn’t care for the finale but found the soloist captivating.’”

Classical music is everywhere

Once you have an ear out, you’ll be surprised at the ubiquity of classical music. You’ll discover it hiding in plain sight: in your favourite movies, video games – even beer ads!

Don’t believe us? Check out Carlton Draught’s “It’s a Big Ad” – featuring music from Carl Off’s Carmina Burana!

Images: Martin Ollman

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