A Neophyte’s Guide to Classical Music: Classical music is like wine

When I first got into wine, I was nervous.  I had read all these reviews of sommeliers talking like they had Riedel decanters shoved up their butt about how some cab sauv had hints of elderberry, cigar, and leather.  I don’t even know what an elderberry looks like, much less how it tastes and if I hadn’t been placed in the outfield in little league because most kids can’t hit the ball hard enough to get the ball out there, then I would never have chewed on the leather straps of my mitt and thus would never have known what the hell leather tastes like.

I would imagine that most people’s approach to classical music would be kind of like that.

It can be daunting and intimidating and also downright repulsive when you see people walking around at concerts going all out with tails or and evening gown that would put Melania Trump (dear God, help us) to shame, talking about how they absolutely loved the oboe’s creamy timbre in bar 44 of Strauss’ Don Juan tone poem.

What made wine approachable is when someone said, “Screw everyone.  Your tongue is your tongue and you like what you like.  Who gives a flying f what Robert Parker says.”

Hmm.  Sage advice.  To a degree…qualification to come below.

I’d like to offer the same advice to all those wanting to take the plunge into classical music.

Screw everyone.  Your ears and imagination and emotions are yours and yours alone.  You like what you like.  So who gives a flying f what Ivan March, Edward Greenfield, or Eric Kimn say.  It’s not hard.  It’s definitely not boring and it definitely doesn’t have to be as snooty as it might seem.

Just like in wine, where the more you drink, the more you know, the more you listen, the more you know.  Soon you’ll be able to pick out the difference between an Austrian orchestra playing a Johann Strauss waltz against a German one just like you can a plummy cab sauv against an earthy one.

Just like in wine, where you savor every mouthful and use your senses, smell, taste, sight, touch to carefully study the wine, when you listen to classical music, savor every measure and use the full complement of your senses and emotions to study it.

Here’s where the qualification is: Just as in wine, you just can’t ignore what everyone says.  If you’re tasting a wine and tasting hints of asphalt and tar and everyone else is saying that that’s actually elderberries, then you’re probably due for a taste tune-up.  Likewise, in classical music, if you’re listening to Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 135 and you’re thinking, “I think Beethoven has lost his mind, what the crap is that scherzo about.”  and everyone else is hailing it as genius, then you’re probably due for a tune-up.  How do you tune-up?  Same as with wine: you keep drinking until you get it.  You just keep listening until you get it.

It is my sincere hope that you’ll find, as I have, that the music can be both consoling friend as well as inspirational teacher.