Tag: music appreciation

Dynamic Music Appreciation

I’ve become a strong believer in the responsibility artists have to invite a lay audience into meaningful dialogue with art. I don’t care which art form any individual chooses to engage in so long as somewhere they are nourishing their lives with art that challenges beyond the delightful entertainment of Hollywood, mainstream pop music, or quick-read books. As full-time artistic creators, we should proselytize for the power of our artistic medium and how the human experience is both defined and deepened by artistic expression. Those of us who engage regularly with our audiences have the opportunity to help them understand difficult but important music. Many of us have had some experience as high school students when a capable English teacher opened our souls to challenging literature such as Shakespeare, Bronte, Steinbeck, or Lee. With a bit of context, questions, and guidance, a new world opened. This artistic nourishing should happen beyond high school, and working artists are in a special position for this task. We have the credentials and passion to stand in front of a classroom and invite people into a deeper relationship with art.

A recent discussion I had with Conrad Kehn, a Denver-based composer and new music impresario, raised new questions about the current practice of music appreciation classes. He shared that a curriculum restriction required that a course he teaches at a community college focus almost entirely on classical music (white, male, European composers). Most of his students, first generation college students, are from non-white, non-European cultures. Is it a form of cultural imperialism to insist they learn only this material if they want to take a music appreciation class? While I love European classical music and hope there is always room to teach these great composers, our world is much bigger. We all have access to music from a variety of genres, cultures, and modes of creative process. Courses can easily include multiple genres and music that falls outside of traditional notation. If the fundamental goal is for a lay audience to have a greater appreciation for music, cross-genre courses are more compelling and inclusive of greater varieties of musical expression. Artists increasingly cross genres and disciplines, and our courses should reflect that.

We have to be passionate about our subjects so that we offer our best charismatic voices when teaching.

Through the success of my music appreciation course “Tragedy and Inspiration”, I’ve wondered what other topics would attract today’s undergraduates. “Music and the Civil Rights Movement”, “Music as Protest”, “Composers Who Cross Borders”, “Self-Taught but Brilliant”, “Opera, Sex, and Violence”, “Music as Ritual and Religious Expression” are all ideas that could examine a great body of music through compelling lenses. The organizing construct is the way to draw in students. All teachers have a body of music that they are well equipped to teach. We have to be passionate about our subjects so that we offer our best charismatic voices when teaching. Our diverse interests and expertise will lead to a myriad of topics that invite the lay listener into the art.

“Music and the Civil Rights Movement” could host a variety of styles crossing more than 200 years of American history. The bulk of the class might focus on the core of the Civil Rights era but should include the evolution of African-American spirituals, the early formation of blues and jazz, the emergence of rap and hip hop, and many current genres articulating the ongoing struggle against racism in America. Jazz pieces would include Coltrane’s Alabama, Mingus’s Fables of Faubus, Meerpol’s “Strange Fruit,” Armstrong’s “(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue?,” and Roach’s We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, among others. Gil Scott-Heron, N.W.A., Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore, and Public Enemy are among many artists who have all used the platform of powerful lyrics to highlight the many forms of contemporary racism. Classical pieces could include Nkeiru Okoye’s opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom, Steve Reich’s Come Out, Wynton Marsalis’s oratorio Blood on the Fields, and Frederic Rzewski’s Attica and Coming Together.

Composers thrive with cultural diversity.

“Composers Who Cross Borders” invites a large umbrella of diverse music. From the Beatles’ work with Ravi Shankar to Toru Takemitsu’s embrace of French impressionism to Tanya Tagaq’s integration of throat singing, metal, and Inuit culture – composers thrive with cultural diversity. A host of musical artists have migrated around the world to embrace aspects of their new countries while maintaining a core identity rooted in their place of origin. Composers Gabriela Lena Frank, Tan Dun, Tania León, and Osvaldo Golijov embrace multicultural influences that define the Americas. Classical composers Béla Bartók, Steve Reich, and Claude Debussy pulled key aspects of their musical language from other cultures.

Teaching music appreciation has also helped cultivate or sustain the passion I have for art music. The process of preparing to teach a subject requires a deep dive that may reveal new insights and invite a fresh look. Finding the words to explain a complex subject has expanded my thinking on many topics and is a constant reminder of the richness present in the works of great composers who make up my chosen art form. Preparing to teach forces growth and informs my own composition. The classroom experience is for both the students and myself. I end up loving this music more each time I teach it, and I am always delighted by unexpected comments offered by the students. The greatest compliment is when students tell me they now listen to music with a greater depth.

Samples of writings by Daniel Kellogg’s students in response to questions in his Music Appreciation classes. (Reprinted with permission.)

Misfits and Geniuses

The success of my course “Tragedy and Inspiration” spurred me to think of other meaningful ways to group contemporary music in a compelling music appreciation-style class. “Misfits and Geniuses” became my next course. I started with the attractive idea of creative rebels who bucked traditional boundaries and existed on the fringe. Which composers wrote new rules, expanded the space for music, and crossed dividing lines? This course includes Charles Ives, John Cage, George Crumb, John Luther Adams, Philip Glass (focusing on Koyaanisqatsi and Einstein on the Beach), Meredith Monk, Morton Subotnick, Pamela Z, and Frank Zappa. Undergraduates love the idea of a rebel genius. That simple premise invites meaningful discussion of Cage’s ideas on silence, Zappa’s absurd plurality of styles, and Meredith Monk’s use of the human voice as an expressive instrument separate from the restrictions of language. The variety of styles and artistic approaches again makes for a rich menu of great but challenging contemporary music. We get to discuss spatialization, silence, recreating an imagined ancient musical language, the blurred lines between rock and classical music, extended techniques, deep listening, and the Buchla synthesizer.

Which composers wrote new rules, expanded the space for music, and crossed dividing lines?

The course features nine primary composers. The material begins with some introductory lectures I created and continues with video interviews (available for everyone but Charles Ives), articles, and some critical material. We then focus on three important pieces for each composer representing different aspects of their musical language. A trio of pieces gives a solid overview of their work and generates discussion on the many creative threads that make the composer unconventional.

I wanted to increase the level of student engagement as I developed this second music appreciation course. Current ideas about student learning encourage a steady stream of low level “tasks” that should be completed immediately after absorbing material. I created a “listening assessment” that asks each student to answer eight brief questions. They do this for all 27 pieces featured in the course and get full credit for completing the task. The questions ask simple facts about the music (length, instruments), and they require the students to list some descriptive adjectives and offer a short personal response.

Listening Assessment:

  1. List the performing forces used in this piece. What instruments are voices are used? What non-musical elements are included? Include what you think is most essential to the piece.
  2. How long is the piece?
    1. Under 10 minutes
    2. 10-30 minutes
    3. 30-40 minutes
    4. Longer than 60 minutes
    5. The length is variable (not specifically set from performance to performance)
  3. How would you describe the rhythmic language of this piece? Please check all options that apply:
    1. Fast
    2. Slow
    3. Mid tempo
    4. With an active pulse
    5. Without an active pulse
    6. Complex
    7. Simple
    8. Repetitive
    9. Constantly changing or evolving
  4. How would you describe the harmonic language of this piece? Please check all options that apply:
    1. Complex
    2. Simple
    3. Beautiful and consonant
    4. Harshly dissonant
    5. Moderately dissonant
    6. Organically unified
    7. Disjunctive or fragmented
    8. Familiar
    9. Abstract or unfamiliar
    10. Slow to change
    11. Actively changing
  5. Pick three to five good descriptive words for this piece. Avoid weak words or vague words like nice, attractive, good, and ugly. Find strong words that offer your unique and specific observations.
  6. What personal responses do you have to this piece? Offer a few sentences to describe your unique perspective. There is no right or wrong answer, but listen with attentive ears and offer meaningful insight. What emotions does the music elicit? What aspects of the music are most compelling? Least compelling?
  7. Was this an easy or difficult piece to listen to? Why? Get specific with reasons to support your answer.
  8. Offer one other thought in response to this piece. Possible items to address: What was most surprising or unusual? What moment moved you? What other artist or genre of music might you connect with this piece? If you had to convince a friend to listen to this piece, what might you say?

In this new course, I often ask the students for their opinions about the music, their opinions about the ideas of the composers, and then ask them to decide which of the three pieces are more compelling. While I often tell my first-year composition majors that they should be sponges and suspend judgment on important composers till further in their education, I encourage strong opinions in music appreciation courses. When the student has to offer a judgment-style opinion, they will listen more closely and seek out the ideas that support their argument. I make it clear that it is fine to dislike a piece of music, but they must know why and be able to support their opinion with detailed observation. I may gently push back on a poorly formed opinion, but I find that even a strong negative reaction paves the way for a growing appreciation of the music. That is my goal.

A good portion of the class embraces Cage’s ideas. Others dismiss the ideas as nonsense.

John Cage generates intense discussion. His ideas are easy to grasp and challenge presuppositions held by most people in the class. We begin with Living Room Music, which suggests that anything can be used to make music or serve as an instrument. (It’s also great fun.) We continue with Sonatas and Interludes and end with 4’33”. The discussion of silence, noise, and “what is music?” is exciting. A good portion of the class embraces Cage’s ideas and examines their own favorite music in a new light. Others dismiss the ideas as nonsense. I’m happy with this disagreement so long as everyone knows why they arrived at their conclusions.

I teach Meredith Monk and Pamela Z side by side. Their highly developed and unique vocal technique has shaped the fabric of their musical language. They are performing composers who embody their music with powerful visual and dramatic components. But their music is quite different: Pamela Z often uses technology and words as a jumping off point. Meredith Monk finds the meaning of words too limiting and wants to create beyond the cultural baggage found in words. We look at Hocket, Dolmen Music, and Songs of Ascension for Meredith Monk, and Bone Music, Gaijin, and Baggage Allowance for Pamela Z. YouTube offers great live performances that allow the students to absorb the important visual components of these pieces.

Morton Subotnick and his early work pioneering live composition with synthesizers resonates strongly with the students. Most of the students either embrace EDM (Electronic Dance Music) or some other music heavily dependent on electronics and looping. None of them know of Morton Subotnick’s work, and they quickly appreciate his essential innovations, which made all current mainstream electronic music possible. We listen to Silver Apples of the Moon, The Last Dream of the Beast, and watch excerpts from Jacob’s Room.

There will always be excellent composers and pieces that won’t find room in a semester-length class.

There will always be excellent composers and pieces that won’t find room in a semester-length class. For a final project, I require the students to create a short, NPR-style podcast featuring a composer not included in the main lessons. I recommend they consider Pauline Oliveros, Conlon Nancarrow, Harry Partch, John Coltrane, Joan La Barbara, Wendy Carlos, Alvin Lucier, Terry Riley, Ornette Coleman, Laurie Anderson, or John Zorn, among others. They can also seek permission for a composer of their own choosing. I only require that the composer chosen has a connection to North America and is someone who has worked primarily in the 20th or 21st century. The podcast format allows them to include musical excerpts, which require description and context.

When I talk to my colleagues about “Misfits and Geniuses”, their eyes light up. They each have their own ideas about which great artists could fit into such a class. The pairing of composers and styles is rich with possibilities, and it is exciting to revel in the work of artists who break rules and redefine the musical landscape.


Tragedy and Inspiration

A course I’ve named “Tragedy and Inspiration” is my solution to drawing college students in to a challenging but powerful body of music. The course couples tragic events from modern history with great pieces of music written in response to those events. Reich’s Different Trains responds to the Holocaust and how trains were used to transport people to extermination camps in WWII. Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 responds to the personal and collective loss experienced by the gay community during the AIDS epidemic. Libby Larsen’s Sifting Through the Ruins and John Adams’s On the Transmigration of Souls respond to the deaths suffered when the World Trade Center buildings were attacked and collapsed in 2001. Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi and John Luther Adams’s Inuksuit respond to the crisis of human activity impacting our environment to create life out of balance. The course covers the historical subject, the composers and their musical styles, and the specific pieces.

Artists have responded to tragic experiences for millennia.

To varying degrees, this body of music either serves to process personal grief experienced by the composer, memorialize those lost for those left living, or mark a protest and call for action. These pieces respond to a common darkness that resonates across the many dividing lines that separate people. The pain of death from war or violent world conflicts transcends our differences. All groups of people throughout history have experienced disease, poverty, bigotry, sexual violence, racial violence, and unnatural death, and artists have responded to these tragic experiences for millennia. These subjects also resonate strongly with undergraduates. They understand the violence, pain, and horror involved in an event like the bombing of Hiroshima and can easily make the leap to the abstract and highly difficult musical language of Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. We begin with news footage, mini-documentaries, and images surrounding the creation of the atomic bomb and the aftermath of the bombing in both Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Then we discuss the abstract language of extended techniques, tone clusters, noise, aleatory, graphic notation, and sonorism that make up the language of early Penderecki. Lastly, we dig into the music and explore how it responds to the event. (Note: Penderecki originally titled his composition 8’37” based on its length. After the premiere he renamed the piece Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima and claimed the piece was always written in response to the bombing of Hiroshima and only after the premiere did he fully understand that. While the renaming is controversial, I accept his explanation and include the piece in the course.)

Because the subject matter is so real and raw, it is easy to bring these undergraduates into a serious appreciation of difficult music. I ask a lot of questions and invite them to offer their own critique or evaluation. While these students are not equipped to offer profound critiques of these compositions, the requirement for written evaluation requires deeper listening. They must have an opinion on the success of the music and defend their positions. The course requires a lot of written responses, and all of the tests are essay tests. I require that students engage with the material with enough substance that they can craft well-written essays (or aspire to such heights). They also have two opportunities to present pieces of their choosing that fit the subject matter. They often bring music from popular genres (rap, rock, country, R&B, etc.), and I welcome the variety. Having music from multiple genres enriches the course and allows for interesting compare-and-contrast discussions.

Because the subject matter is so real and raw, it is easy to bring undergraduates into a serious appreciation of difficult music.

I begin the course with a screening of the first 26 minutes of the documentary A Strong Clear Vision that features Maya Lin and her work to create the Vietnam War Memorial. This remarkable story follows her experience entering a competition for the memorial while still a graduate student at Yale, winning, and defending the design through horrendous public criticism and bigotry. Ultimately, the design has become one of the most celebrated war memorials ever created, and it has had a profound impact on subsequent memorial designs. (The World Trade Center memorial is a prime example.) This is a great documentary and draws the students immediately into the substance of the course. The memorial has served thousands of Vietnam veterans in their grief and healing. She created the piece when she was only a few years older than the undergraduates in the class and stood by her strong vision against tremendous odds. It is an amazing example of the power of art in the face of tragedy.

Here is the content that comprises the rest of the course:

Module 1: War

  • Steve Reich: Different Trains
  • George Crumb: Black Angels: Thirteen Images from a Dark Land
  • Vietnam War Protest Music and Woodstock
    (This unit involves a collection of pieces including):

    • Richie Havens: “Freedom” (performed at Woodstock and based on African American song from slavery)
    • Jimmie Hendrix: “The Star Spangled Banner” (performed at Woodstock)
    • Country Joe and the Fish: “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag”
    • John Lennon: “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine”
    • Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young: “Ohio”
  • Krystof Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima:

Module 2: Environmental Crisis

  • Philip Glass: Koyaanisqatsi
  • John Luther Adams: Inuksuit

Module 3: World Trade Center Attack

  • John Adams: On the Transmigration of Souls
  • Libby Larsen: Sifting Through the Ruins

Module 4: Social Justice

  • Gil Scott Heron and issues of inner city poverty and racism
    • “Whitey on the Moon”
    • “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”
    • “The Bottle”
    • “Home is Where the Hatred Is”
    • “Winter in America:
  • Frederic Rzewski: Attica and Coming Together, written in response to the Attica Prison Riots
  • John Corigliano: Symphony No. 1, written in response to the AIDS epidemic
  • Tonja Tajac: music written in response to violence against women, bigotry towards indigenous people, and environmental concerns
  • Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement
    • John Coltrane’s Alabama, written in response to the 1964 bombing of an Alabama church and Martin Luther King Jr.’s eulogy for the four dead Sunday School Girls
    • Charles Mingus’s The Fables of Faubus, written in response to the circumstances surrounding the integration of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1968
    • Billie Holiday’s famous performance of Abel Meerpol’s “Strange Fruit,” written about lynching in the south


  • Kellogg on Kellogg: Dust Returns, written in response to the untimely death of the composer’s mother

This diverse and strong body of music allows discussion on a range of topics and the many artistic responses. We cover extended techniques, aleatory, spacialization, satire, spoken-word verses sung-word, amplification in classical music, film without narrative, site specific work, noise, chamber music versus symphonic music, classical instruments versus non-classical instruments, etc. We talk about pieces written in the moment compared to pieces written with the perspective of years. We compare Meerpol and Holiday’s searing depiction of racial violence in America (“Strange Fruit”) with Mingus’s absurd and satiric approach to school desegregation (The Fables of Faubus). We compare Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima with On the Transmigration of Souls. We explore what role art can take in healing from tragedy. All of this comes with a menu of great and diverse music. The majority of the course is music that the students likely would never have encountered outside of the class.

The course culminates with students creating their own piece of art in response to tragedy.

The course culminates with students creating their own piece of art in response to tragedy. They pick an event/subject that they resonate with (personal or historical) and create a response in an artistic medium of their choosing (film, poetry, music, painting). They write a self-evaluation in which they state their artistic intent, describe the process, and evaluate their own work. Because this is not a class for art majors, I am lenient about artistic success and focus on the self-evaluation and effort. Some of the projects are stunning as students dig deep and discover creative veins they did not know they possessed. The topics vary widely, and the students share their work in the final classes.

The bulk of the content is offered online. I utilize YouTube, Vimeo, Spotify, and archived web articles to create the content for the course. The students engage with the material through laptops or phones at their chosen time and location. The classroom is reserved for discussion and questions. We typically sit in a circle, and my student teacher suggested we routinely ask short questions that everyone answers with a word or two. This helps everyone in the room have a voice while sending a message that each voice should be heard. I always give a talk about respecting each other when approaching complex issues of racism, genocide, sexual violence, etc., but the conversation always has remained appropriate.

Teaching the class is rewarding and energizing. Many students tell me they will never listen to music the same way again, and they think about their own favorite music in a new light. We get to discuss some raw topics and investigate the power of art to heal, challenge, and memorialize. My greatest hope is that they have a lifelong invitation to seek deeper artistic experiences in their lives. Most of them will go on to have mainstream careers as engineers, business owners, or scientists (the three big majors at the University of Colorado). I want them to find room for art in their lives, and I treasure this brief opportunity to share some great music.

The Listening Ladder

“It does not matter what we originally heard or thought we heard or wanted to hear way back when—it only matters what everyone else can hear.”
—Rob Deemer, “What is Real” (NewMusicBox, March 9, 2012).

“There is, no doubt, a strong sensual element in the musician’s enjoyment of music; but he is not content with this alone: his finely strung nature protests against yielding completely to the influence of music which he suspects of having a merely ephemeral hold on his emotions. He tastes it, as it were, and enjoys its flavour, but is careful to stop short when there is danger of intoxication, for that brings on headache and other undesirable discomforts. […] The simile between music and wine is an old one, and there is more truth in it than some recent theorists would have us believe. […] There is an enjoyment of wine that is not entirely sensual, for it calls into play the powers of comparison and judgment. The connoisseur and the boor enjoy it in quite different ways[.…] The connoisseur delights in the wine itself, in its flavour and bouquet, the boor revels in its effect; and the latter enjoyment to a certain extent precludes the possibility of the former. Substituting music for wine, we have a good example of the relative points of view of the musician and the musical layman. The difference between them lies not so much in the class of music they respectively enjoy as in the way they enjoy it.”
—William Foster Apthorp, “Musicians and Music-Lovers” (Atlantic Monthly, February 1879; later collected in Apthorp, Musicians and Music-Lovers, New York: Scribners, 1908)

“China has become the world’s fifth-largest consumer of wine, ahead of Britain, according to an International Wine and Spirit Research study. A particularly popular label in China, Chateau Lafite Rothschild […] can retail anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000 per bottle, depending on the vintage. [P]eople are willing to pay so much over and above the market prices for what they consider to be perfect stock.”
“China’s faux Bordeaux stirs wine market” (Reuters, March 12, 2012)

Staying focused on one activity at a time yields better results than partially engaging in several activities at once most of the time, at least for me. And the most important of the activities I engage in is listening to music. Indeed, it is the fuel behind pretty much everything else I do: from my daily work to the essay you’re reading now to whatever precious little of my own music I get to create when I have the luxury of a small chunk of time to actually engage in creative processes.

Yet in our current society there is an overwhelming propensity for multitasking. One of the practices that has suffered the most, and seems largely taken for granted by many people, is the very act of focused listening. While I have long held the view that no genre of music is inherently superior to any other, and I have found music in just about every genre that I deeply believe is of intrinsic value and will enrich the lives of anyone who hears it, I still contend that you get much more from the music you hear (whatever it may be) if you completely submit to it.

Everyone realizes that if you are not reading a novel carefully enough, you might miss an important detail of the plot—in a novel by, say, a Henry James or a James Joyce, it is very easy to get lost if you’re not paying the requisite attention. But few, other than musicians and composers, would hold the same to be true for music, which has always struck me as somewhat odd. Admittedly as someone who composes music, I hold something of an insider’s view of it. But I still remember my first several encounters with live orchestra concerts and not really understanding what I was hearing because I was too distracted. Over time, the more I learned to focus, the more I got from what I heard, and that proved to be true no matter what I was listening to—whether a jazz group, a rock band, traditional Hindustani music, etc.

Beaucastel 2007

On December 31, 2010, I sampled the 2007 red and white vintages of Beaucastel’s legendary Chateauneuf du Pape with a group of friends; Beaucastel’s prices make their top wines prohibitive to experience on a regular basis. Before I got serious about studying wine, the quality of these classic Rhones would have been lost on me. And although we all thought both were wonderful, I’m still a beginner and I’m sure I wasn’t completely aware of what I was drinking. Might the same disparity between experience and perception also be true for most people listening to music?

The seeming polemic by 19th-century American music critic William Foster Apthorp which I quoted at the onset of this current essay (and which I discovered thanks to Daniel Cavicchi’s Listening and Longing: Music Lovers in the Age of Barnum ) might raise a few eyebrows in its attempt to distinguish between how musicians and ordinary people listen to music. I totally think it is possible for anyone to get completely absorbed in a listening experience, even someone who has never composed or performed music. In fact, I found Apthorp’s comparisons between musicians’ astute listening habits and the connoisseurship of discerning wine drinkers somewhat specious since he never claims that you’d be a better oenophile if you actually made your own wine. That said, winemakers probably taste more details than I ever could in a Chateau Lafite Rothschild, if I could ever afford to drink one. So then might I infer that there could be a very real sliding scale of discernment, one that would apply to music just as much as anything else, and one which ultimately affects everything we listen to, and why certain music ultimately becomes more popular as a result?

1. Step one would be that you will get more information from music if you are listening attentively to it. (I’m curious to hear dissenting views on this one, though it does crumble the rest of the ladder below, and please note, I’m not saying that you get absolutely nothing from music if you’re not completely focused on it; music can and does operate on a variety of levels, not all of them conscious.)

2. Step two would be that you can get even more from what you are hearing if you have had prior experience listening to music that is similar to it. Just as someone who has had numerous bottles of Bordeaux wine over the years will have a palette attuned to that style of winemaking, folks who for years have regularly attended a chamber music series or a jazz club—if they’re not the folks chatting all through the gig—are probably capable of getting more from the listening experience than a first-time concert attendee.

3. Step three would be that you’ve actually heard the particular piece of music in question previously and therefore have a deeper understanding of the work based on your prior encounters with it. The wine aficionado whose has sampled every vintage of Chateau Lafite Rothschild for the past 20 years will probably get more from, say, the 2007 bottling than I ever could hope to, just as someone who has listened to pieces in the standard classical music repertoire or in heavy rotation on golden oldies radio programs knows that music on a deeper level than someone hearing a Mozart symphony or an Elvis Presley song for the very first time. Unfortunately, of course, new music is by its nature always at a disadvantage in such an experiential paradigm.

4. Step four, would be to engage in the experience of either performing or composing music that is similar to what you listen to, which allows you to speak the language so that even if you’ve never had a particular conversation before—e.g. experienced a new piece in the basic style of the music you perform or compose—you can still understand it. Of course this is again a double-edged sword with new music, especially music that attempts to forge new paths. Often the most vociferous opponents of a new style (whether Schoenberg’s music of the early 20th century, Ornette Coleman’s free jazz of the 1950s, or the punk rock and post-punk of someone like John Lydon) are experienced musicians for whom adding any new words to the vocabulary is tantamount to destroying the language.

5+. Step five then would be to have performed the music you are hearing, and ultimately step six would have been to actually have composed said piece. I’ve always found it to be a tremendous insult to the academic new music community when people say that the only people in the audience for concerts of their music are their composer and performer colleagues. Yet it is undeniably true that certain kinds of music have a broader appeal to people who never even climb on to that very first step of the listening ladder I have just outlined (attentive listeners with, albeit, no additional relationship to the music). However, the curious thing about music (and art in general) is that it is possible to not completely understand or appreciate something you are deeply immersed in; whereas others with fewer degrees of relation to it, sometimes even folks who haven’t begun climbing that listening ladder, might instantly connect to it.