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Listening to Contemporary Music

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Kathleen Kastner

on 10 February 2014

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Transcript of Listening to Contemporary Music

Listening to Contemporary Music
The phrase, "twentieth century music," which used to be synonymous with "avant garde stuff that nobody likes," has now caught up with us
(adapted from an article by Steven Stucky-Pulitzer-prize winning American composer)
The 20th century now stretches back so far that much of its music has come to seem familiar, comfortable and safe.

How do you get the most out of listening to unfamiliar new music?

Don't expect the wrong things.
The familiar elements-major and minor keys, recognizable motifs, melodies and themes, chord progressions, familiar forms like sonata or rondo, ways of playing instruments and using sounds we have learned to recognize - may not be present.
To listen to new kinds of music using the old mental and aural categories can be frustrating or even infuriating! Let each piece you encounter set its own agenda, create its own frame of reference. Check your preconceptions at the door; they will only slow you down!
# 1
# 2
Be prepared for discontinuity.
Traditional ways of continuity - how one gets smoothly from one musical event to the next and how these events are made to seem to belong together - are largely a thing of the past.
Don't try too hard to "understand."
# 3
Lots of contemporary music is composed of elaborate, esoteric techniques - which was also true of earlier composers, but you have learned to understand some of this music. Over time in this class, you will learn some new ways to understand some of this music.
# 4
Expect new instruments, new ways of
playing and singing and influences
from other cultures.
When you hear many works from the 20th century, keep in mind that you will be hearing the continuation of a very long tradition dating back thousands of years.
# 5
Give yourself permission to dislike what you hear.
You don't have to like every new piece you hear..but don't explain your dislike by claiming that, "it isn't music." History is strewn with rash talk about what is and isn't music: Beethoven was regularly declared an anti-musical lunatic by critics hearing his works for the first time. The boundaries of music have been expanding for centuries and they will continue to widen.
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