The other day FK of Classical Review posed the question: “Would more people get ‘into’ classical music by hearing it first on CD or in a concert hall?”
I’m assuming the question is about getting into classical music generally, as opposed to getting into specific musical works. And since it’s a hypothetical question as it stands, I’m going to turn it into something more personal if not necessarily more scientific:
What got you “into” classical music?
Was it hearing the music on recordings, was it hearing the music in the concert hall, was it hearing the music used in some incidental way (soundtracks, advertisements…), or was it something else?
This post is my answer. You’re invited to share a response in the comments, or to write your own blog post and leave a link here. (Does that make it a meme? Maybe.)
I got into classical music as a kid, when I was too young to be taken to formal concerts, but not too young to ask for my favourite records to be put on.
The family record collection was probably 75 per cent musical theatre and 25 per cent classical (orchestral) music. So strictly speaking, the musical genre that I first got “into” was musical theatre and I got into that solely via recordings, since I was in late primary school before I saw any musicals on the stage. (By contrast I’ve never been interested in recordings of opera and my interest in that genre is solely from performances.)
Anyhow, classical music. Recordings first. No prepping or priming or earnest guidance from my parents. The music was there simply to be listened to and enjoyed. I didn't particularly identify what I was listening to as “classical” music. It was all just music, from Scheherazade to Eagle Rock. I knew I preferred the Rimsky-Korsakov by a long shot, but I wasn’t making any particular genre distinctions with the exception of one: singing and no-singing.
But recordings were only part of the picture. There was a piano in the house, my big sister was taking lessons, and at some point I began fooling around, trying to work out notation with the aid of one of those paper charts that sit at the back of the keyboard and improvising what I called “fairy music”. This was probably maddening, formal lessons were in order!
But there’s more, and if this next factor wasn’t the real reason I got “into” classical music, it certainly has influenced my taste in the long term. It’s dance, specifically ballet. I first heard live orchestral music not in a concert hall but in the theatre, in a production of Giselle that I saw when I was about 6 or 7. The first accomplished pianist I heard play regularly was the ballet school accompanist. The music I most liked to listen to, I realise now, was often ballet music or at least well-suited to dance. My favourite mode of “listening” involved moving. There were plenty of concert works I heard for the first time in the theatre, for example Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G (which I loved, aged 9) and Webern Opus 5 (which I hated, aged 14). And I grew up revelling in the colour and buoyancy of Russian and French music and the elegant rhythms and phrases of baroque music.
All in all, it was a gradual immersion that began at a very young age, first with recordings and then through the theatre. My attraction to classical concerts is really part of a bigger love for live performance generally, and it seems to have emerged as much from a childhood of going to plays and ballets as from the music itself.
To my shame, the memory of my earliest classical concerts is really hazy. There was my first studio concert, in which I played some little beginner piece in the midst of a program of lieder and advanced repertoire (the other students were all much older and mostly singers). My teacher also conducted the Western Sinfonia, and I recall going to a couple of those concerts, probably when I was in primary school. Around the same time there was the SSO concert in the Sydney Town Hall to which I was taken in fervent anticipation of seeing and hearing a harp. There was a harp, but not as soloist; I was very disappointed.
The first orchestral concert that I really remember was the SSO, in the Opera House, with Jean-Pierre Rampal as soloist. I was at least 12, because I’d begun learning flute. Mum and I set off with the primary goal of hearing Rampal play Mozart. I remember the concert so vividly because I emerged from it having lost all interest in Rampal, and Mozart – I had just heard Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra. Woah! Now that was exciting stuff. But by that time I was well and truly “into” classical music, I knew that was its name, and I also knew that I belonged to a nerdy little minority. And I didn’t care because I was in love.