Dropping the Needle

The following is guest written by one of our top voice teachers, Anne.

When I was growing up, all I listened to was musical theater. That was it. I absolutely loved musicals, and that was all I was going to listen to. One day, more out of curiosity than boredom, I ended up messing around with my parents’ turn table. I checked out the music that they had. There was no musical theater. There were albums by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Kansas, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Allman Brothers, and Jimi Hendrix. So, having no idea what any of this was (as this was the beginning years of the Walkman, so I spent the two-hour car rides to Connecticut or Trenton with headphones on and never had to hear my parents’ music), I selected an album at random, based entirely on the picture. I chose the untitled album, Led Zeppelin’s fourth, enthralled by the picture of the hermit that was reminiscent of my mother’s Tarot cards that I wasn’t allowed to touch (and she never did either). I put on the album. And I was blown away.

Up until this point, most of my musical knowledge was Andrew Lloyd Webber. Suddenly I was hearing the proto-type of heavy metal, guitar riffs emphasizing the blues, a deep rhythmic component, intense drumming, and vocals that didn’t sound anything like The Phantom of the Opera. I never looked back from that moment, finding myself listening to heavier and harder music as I got older.

I’m not going to tell you that I like all types of music. That would be a lie. I have my preferences, just as everyone else does. I’ve never been a big fan of jazz. It just doesn’t do it for me. But I did give it a chance. I sat down and I listened and I formed an opinion. But What if I had found out that I absolutely loved jazz? What if, by never listening, I had missed out on something I love? If that needle had never dropped down onto “When the Levee Breaks,” I would have missed so much.

What does this have to do with learning music? Am I telling you that you should go sing something out of the 24 Italian Songs and Arias when you normally prefer to sing Adele? Not at all. Learning about music and growing as a musician include more than just what you work on in lessons. The classes I learned the most from in college weren’t just the Opera Workshops and Masterclasses. They were the Music History courses, especially the contemporary musical history course, where I had to sit and listen to pieces that I might never have explored on my own.

We don’t have to sing music that we aren’t interested in. I actually caution against it. There is no right music to like, or intellectual music to like, or better music to like. We like what we like for whatever that inside reason is. What I am suggesting is maybe looking around for something you’ve never heard before; check into a genre you’d never thought of checking into before. Choose the song at random. An album cover that you like, a song title that interests you. Sit down and listen to the whole song without judging it or comparing it. And then maybe listen to another like that. Or maybe stick your tongue out, close the tab, and never bother with that genre again. Neither choice is right or wrong. But take a chance and let the needle drop.

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