NOTE: While I think the topic below is very important to the development and nurturing of musicians, I don't want to come across as only a classical music listener. I love everything from Mumford and Sons to the Eagles to Boston to the Zac Brown Band, to Metallica, and many points in between. I listen to these groups more in the background while driving or cooking or cleaning the house, but I focus most of my listening to symphonic music in a more serious way....unless it's a low brass geek out session where just a little too much bass trombone edge makes me smile. :)
Tonight, I had a conversation with a young music major who shared a concern over not being interested in listening to recordings of classical music. What he doesn't realize is that all isn't lost....he's already a step ahead of some music majors who simply don't understand why it is important to study recordings in the first place! I'll be the first to admit that I came later to the "active listening" camp later than many around me, but at least I know why it happened, and hopefully I can help ease you into the process if you aren't sure where to begin. In a strange twist of fate, my opportunity was born out of a completely unrelated experience, and I was able to string together a collection of great recorded music much like a spider spins a web.
In August of 1999, I was in a single car crash on the way back to college that very easily could have taken my life. As I was surveying the damage left in the aftermath (including a rebuilt right ankle and chops that wouldn't make a sound for 3 more months) I realized that nearly everything I owned was destroyed. After replacing clothes and other necessary items, I decided to start rebuilding my recording collection brick by brick. I did a web search for "great classical low brass CDs" which led me to the CSO/Solti Mahler 5 and the CSO/Solti 1812 Overture/Pictures at an Exhibition. I remember getting the discs and not quite knowing what to think about the music. Until that time, I had never heard Mahler at all, and I only knew part of 1812 Overture and Pictures. What began as uncertainty soon led to a fascination with the Chicago Symphony sound, and more recordings with Solti, then Barenboim, then Reiner, then others. Eventually, after reading more about the players who made up the brass section, I started snooping around about the legendary tubist of the CSO, Arnold Jacobs.
Searching around for more Jacobs recordings led me to the Arnold Jacobs: Portrait of an Artist and Arnold Jacobs: Legacy of an Artist albums. These are MUST OWN albums, not only for the commentary on his teaching philosophies and research, but also for the fine playing excerpts each contain. An excerpt of the Nielsen Fourth Symphony led me to Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony, which led me to the Blomstedt/SFSO recording of Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphosis and Mathis der Maler, as well as the Michael Tilson Thomas/SFSO Mahler cycle. Track 24, an excerpt from Bruckner's Fourth Symphony led me to the New York Philharmonic, and eventually the Mahler cycle with Leonard Bernstein. A recording of the New York Philharmonic playing Holst led to the iconic Charles Duthoit/Montreal Symphony recording of The Planets. Jacobs' recording of the Strauss First Horn Concerto led me to a Dennis Brain solo recording, which introduced me to the Mozart Horn Concertos, which led me to Barry Tuckwell. The brass quintet tracks led me to recordings by the Center City Brass Quintet, the Stockholm Chamber Brass, the German Brass, and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble/London Brass.
Do you see how this works? Those two CSO recordings were like "ground zero" for me, setting off an explosion of curiosity that continues today. Despite my early trombone focused search, I learned about musicians on other instruments, like Bud Herseth, Dale Clevenger, Warren Deck, and the differences in the string playing in different orchestras. I was beginning to recognize why the Cleveland Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra sounded different. To me, these were the real fruits of my new hobby. Sure, I listened to those trombone sections and geeked out as much as the next trombone player....but I was also geeking out over the chamber music quality in the soft woodwind sections or the depth of sound in the double basses on four recordings of Mahler 2.
No matter where your passion in music lies, be it chamber music, jazz, orchestra, band or solo literature, the need for increased familiarity with recordings within the genre is equally important. In a time when people are selling their media (CD's, records, tapes, DVDs) in favor of digital copies in the cloud, it is possible to get a used, full CD for the price of three or four iTunes plus ($1.29 per song) downloads, or some of the original vinyl records of classic recordings for as little as 50 cents! How is that for a college student on a budget? It sounds pretty affordable to me. :)
I hope that each of you can find that special recording for yourself. When I start to wonder if it's all worth it, one play of that CSO/Solti Mahler 5 usually brings me back to a good place. If I can ever be of any help, let me know!!!!