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In Praise of Personal Preference and Musical Tolerance


By Craig Birchfield

I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s. There were not 70 different Billboard music charts like there are today – Adult Alternative, Hot Country, Mainstream Rock, R&B/Hip Hop, etc. You could hear a pretty good cross section of different types of music on your single favorite AM station. But music elitism seems to be pervasive today especially with young people. A typical musical conversations that I hear goes something like this, “You don’t really listen to the Cosmic Squeaking Oinkers do you? They’re horrible! My friends and I only listen to Post Depressive Gothic Grunge with a Screamo Chaser.” I’m serious. Everyone has a preference but sometimes it approaches religious fervor.

My favorite era of classical musical composition is Post-Romantic. I know that to many of you discerning music lovers that isn’t even a real term but to me it is a nice smear from late Romantic and into early Modern. Mind you, I didn’t even realize that until very recently. It came to me that much of my favorite music is by late 19th and early 20th century composers: Rimsky-Korsakov (Scheherazade), Sibelius (Violin Concerto), Ravel (Bolero) and Stravinsky (Firebird, Petrushka). Rachmaninoff piano compositions can move me. I love the big epic themes, harmonic chances, aching melodies and virtuoso fireworks that are often so much a part of the Post-Romantic era. By the time we start getting into Post Modern and, dare I even mention, Avant Garde eras (mid 20 Century onward) things start to get a bit angular, ethereal and, well, to me ugly. But that is just my opinion. Conversely, I have the greatest respect for the giants of the Classical and Romantic periods (roughly 1750 to 1870). Without their foundational work and genius the later great musical compositions I love would have not been possible. But theirs is not my favorite type of music.

I know that in some people’s eyes I have just committed the blasphemy of all blasphemies (not a huge fan of Beethoven and Mozart – how boorish!). But I really mean no disrespect. I am sure that there are many who would view my choice of compositions as over-emotional, grandiose and populist. And they are totally welcome to their opinion. Others would say that Romantic era music it is an acquired taste or you have to dig deep to really appreciate it. I do appreciate it but I know what I like and I actually like a many different types of music. I am a musical magpie. I can listen to Bach, Miles Davis, the Beatles, Eric Clapton, Pentatonix, Gospel, Bluegrass and Bossa Nova … all in the same day. I can ever listen to Romantic era composers.

Many young people today have never listened to a great Classical or Jazz piece all the way through much less been to a concert and experienced what live serious music can offer. Here is my take. I think that there are three types of music: good, bad and mediocre. There is a lot of bad and mediocre out there. Thankfully they often fade as time passes and the good goes on for decades and even centuries. We can be tolerant of the musical choices of other (unless they like Post Depressive Gothic Grunge with a Screamo Chaser – come on), still be comfortable with our own musical choices and try to evangelize for great music. Great beautiful music can make a difference in our world.

Keep Practicing

Craig