One of the rituals in which I engage every four years is in mid-January or so, when I can no longer abide the media hoopla over primaries and the election. Almost like clockwork, a day will come in January when I am listening to NPR and I reach a breaking point. I say “that’s it”, get up from my desk, and switch the radio to classical (WFMT in Chicago, where we used to have two classical stations … but that’s another story). There it will sit, except for the Saturday morning Car Talk/Wait, Wait/Michael Feldman/This American Life megafest, until November. Or later, as happened in 2000, when if I heard about hanging chads one more time I was going to violate my generally pacifist tendencies.
I enjoy this regular rediscovery of classical music. My tastes tend toward late classical/early romantic, before it got too histrionic and sentimental. All other things equal I tend to listen to Schubert, especially symphonies and chamber music, with the 9th symphony in C major being my favorite by far. After that, Beethoven’s 3rd and 7th symphonies. Then Mozart, symphonies and chamber music and opera. Bach, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, and Bartok round out the lion’s share of our collection, which ranges from early chants to Philip Glass.
I also tend to favor anything that’s heavy on cello, with my best recommendations being Vivaldi’s cello concertos and Brahms’s cello concertos. The Brahms recording I have has Jaqueline duPre on cello and Daniel Barenboim on piano, so it’s very good and very poignant (n.b.: she was a gifted phenomenon, they were married, she died from multiple sclerosis, very sad).
This year is particularly interesting, because it’s the first election year in which I have an iPod, which has also reinvigorated my interest in my classical music collection. When I’m writing and need to focus I certainly must listen to classical music (in fact, in graduate school I could only get anything really accomplished when listening to Gregorian chants!). I’ve created playlists of all of my classical music by composer, with goofy names like “Schubertarama”, “Bachannal”, “Vivaldissimo”, and so on. It’s extremely helpful for getting into the flow, unlike having to change CDs or flip cassettes.
In my school office it’s even easier to avoid the election media frenzy. Either I put on my headphones and listen to my iPod, or I listen to a great online radio station called SOMA-FM. As the name would suggest, they are from San Francisco, and they have channels that range from electronic beeps and twitters to lounge to alt country. My channel of choice is Groove Salad, which is “a tasty plate of ambient beats and grooves.” It lacks the almost white noise character of Gregorian chants, but manages to be an interesting listen without being excessively disrupting. If you like ambient-style techno of various tempos (Moby/The Orb/Groove Armada, for example), then you’ll like Groove Salad.
The other sanctuary from election hoopla is my favorite “commercial” radio station, WOXY-FM Real alternative music, not the packaged corporate Clear Channel top-down “alternative” playlist that gets pushed out to so many “alternative” radio stations around the country. Plus they still play bands like the Velvet Underground on occasion, although it’s been a while since I’ve heard Bauhaus. Time to make a request …
When I came home from Philadelphia yesterday, I learned that my husband had been investigating the artist offerings on Magnatune. If you’re not familiar with Magnatune, you have to check them out. Magnatune got a lot of press a few months ago because they are a different kind of recording label. You can try all of their music for free at their website; in fact, they stream radio stations that are mixes of their artists. You can pay what you wish to buy an album; $8 is the recommended price. And half of the price goes to the artist as a royalty, directly.
So I messed around with Magnatune last evening, and there is some great music there. To continue the classical music vein from above, their classical music selection is more extensive than I expected and of high quality. I particularly enjoy Vito Paternoster’s recordings of Bach Cello Suites. I listened to them yesterday, and will probably go back and buy them today. Their classical selection is disproportionately baroque and renaissance, and the renaissance stuff they have is quite distinctive, things I would never know to look for at Amazon or Borders.
They also have a lot of electronica artists. I am going to buy the DJ Markitos album they have; he’s a DJ mix guy from Slovakia and the music is fast and upbeat.
I wish Blue Note Records would move more in this direction. Then I wouldn’t hesitate to buy anything from my beloved Kurt Elling or Stefon Harris. In fact, I so deeply want Harris’s Grand Unification Theory that I am considering breaking my RIAA moratorium.
If you have any music suggestions, please leave ‘em here. Especially if they don’t involve buying any RIAA-label CDs!