Posted by: rbbadger | October 29, 2009

All You Have To Do Is Listen

Some of you might remember Bill Nye the Science Guy, an American scientist who sought to make science seem fun and appealing.  He does have a bit of an equivalent, at least in the classical music world in Rob Kapilow.

Kapilow, who is a composer, conductor, and pianist has an infectious love of music.  He is well known for his series of concerts known as What Makes It Great?  Classical music can be a forbidding thing for many.  For one, it just isn’t like the popular music of today.  It requires some engagement on the part of the listener.  Granted, it is possible, after listening to pieces of music for the umpteenth time, to know exactly what is going to happen when.  It took me a while to get a handle on the Sibelius symphonies, mostly because Sibelius has his own methods of forms.  His themes, especially in his later years, are often very terse, maybe just a couple of notes.  In classical music, often these little tiny motives generate entire massive works.  Learning what to listen for can be a bit of a challenge.  We’ve forgotten, or in most cases, never really learned how to listen.  This is why we need educators like Kapilow.

Ever since the late, great Leonard Bernstein passed away, there has been a need for someone who could educate people in how to listen.  Perhaps they were more skilled at this in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Aaron Copland wrote a wonderful little book entitled What To Listen For in Music.  But unless you read music, it won’t help you much.  Leonard Bernstein had these wonderful concerts where he and members of the New York Philharmonic took apart pieces of music and showed audiences what to listen for and then put them back together again.  Rob Kapilow takes a similar approach as well.  He recently has authored a book entitled All You Have To Do Is Listen.  Those who can’t read music aren’t excluded.  There is a companion website where the examples he uses can be listened to.  More important, it shows exactly in the score where these events happen. 

Anyhow, here is a video of Kapilow doing what he does as a music educator.  Classical music can be one of the most rewarding things there is, but without a bit of a road map, it is possible to seem utterly lost in a sea of notes.

If you would like to see him in action with an entire piece of music, I invite you to take a glance at his podcast from Lincoln Center covering the Mendelssohn Octet.  This amazing piece of music, written when Felix Mendelssohn was only sixteen, is a marvel of creativity and inventiveness.  Not even Mozart produced masterworks of this quality so young.  Mozart’s greatest works only begin to appear when he was in his 20s, something that makes his shockingly young demise in his 30s all the more lamentable.  And like Mozart, Mendelssohn was not to have a long life, dying in his 30s after a series of strokes. 

The podcast is about an hour long, but it is well worth viewing.


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