Saturday, 24 September 2011

'Building a library'

Depending on the music under consideration, I enjoying tuning in on Saturday mornings to Building a Library on BBC Radio 3. Strange concept: I've never in my life met anyone who sets out to ‘build’ a library of classical music, on the basis, it appears, of wanting the best recording of every piece of music that exists. On that basis the programme, which deals with three or four pieces in three hours and a quarter, has a while to run before it has covered the lot. Doesn’t nearly everyone buy opportunistically -- ‘I like that -- I think I'll buy it’?

Whoever the intended audience of the programme is -- all ten of them -- they must be incredibly expert. The fascination is the discriminations that the presenter is able to offer between performances I can’t hear the differences between. Today he commented on one performer who, though good, was ‘unfortunately below the note’, which I presume meant ‘flat’ -- could have fooled me and I'm amazed that someone can be a professional who gets on recordings and plays flat.

The problem for me in listening is not that I'm not building a library but that I don’t know how to listen. The chap will make some point about the passage he’s about to play: by the time it’s a few bars in I’ve forgotten what I'm supposed to be listening for, or else I don’t know which bit is supposed to contain the feature he’s drawn attention to.

It’s still a good programme for the likes of me -- or at least the odd twenty-minute sample is. It’s like reading a book and finding a couple of lines of poetry quoted, indented, italicised and set off from the text. That often strikes with particular force. So it is with hearing a burst of music embedded in the prose of professional commentary. I’d love to see a breakdown of the actual audience -- it must be very different from that select community of library builders. So, keep Building a Library and pay no heed to charges of elitism -- though I suppose I'm elite so I would say that.

RE my musical education: some time ago [] I mentioned I was looking for an art class to join because I wanted to draw. The first class of the course I've ended up in, life drawing, run by Kingston Council Adult Ed, was a model of the sort of thing I need in music. We drew a skeleton, several times, quite fast and once from memory. In between the teacher ‘took us through’ the skeleton, showing us how it could be regarded as made up of three basic forms and suggested the features we regard as primary and those we’d be best ignoring till well on with drawing. She broke it into parts and identified them: the job was done by a mixture of pointing, gesturing and handling with naming or ‘attaching’ a verbal comment, so as to make them retainable in memory and thought.

I need the equivalent of that for music. Perhaps it exists online -- the internet would be the right medium: it could show the score and the player and the viewer could run it back to replay sections.

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