You... shook me aaaallll night long!
Far more people want to shop the Classical Music section than do. This is because many customers, while having heard classical music and enjoyed it, do not know how to differentiate one album from another. No one wants to look like an ignorant buffoon (except your best friend in 7th grade who you’ve long since lost contact with anyhow), so the idea of browsing aisles of classical music without knowing the difference between a chamber piece or a chamber pot (which is a good thing to know, FYI) is enough to send you scurrying back to the latest post-punk, freak-folk, R&B roots-influenced release from [insert hot young band here].
Well, my fragile little reader, relax. I am here to help. I’m going to teach you some basics – enough to allow you to shop without feeling like you’re Sissy Spacek in the opening shower scene of Carrie.
"I don't know what counterpoint means!!!"
Incidentally, if you’re already educated in classical music, this blog entry isn’t for you. This is for the layman, the curious, the uninitiated. I’m going to be simplifying things and skipping stuff. My main goal is to get people started, and I don’t need you freaking them out with long-winded diatribes about how Stokowski’s transcriptions of Mussorgsky’s works are a bastardization that perverts their core, ethnic vitality in lieu of Westernized concepts of melodic accessibility. [And here’s where I snap my fingers and weave my head back ‘n’ forth like Jackée on 227.]
So, without further ado, here's some basic terminology:
Symphony vs. Concerto vs. Chamber, etc…
A symphony can be two things: A group of professional musicians, such as the Astoria Symphony or the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra or the Orquesta Sinfónica de Yucatán. In this instance, the term “symphony” is synonymous with the term “orchestra.”
But most often, when used on its own, the word symphony denotes a piece of music that is written for a full orchestra. Remember: a symphony is played by a symphony – that’ll be a helpful hint soon.
What constitutes a “full orchestra?" About 100 people who can barely pay their rent! [drum roll] But seriously, a full orchestra is what you think of when you imagine classical music being performed live – a large group of men and women in tuxedos and evening gowns, organized into plots of instruments. When you were forced to go see The Nutcracker as a child, it was a full orchestra that played the music.
Sometimes, certain pieces call for a similar variety of musicians, but much fewer of them, say, about 50 musicians, or even less. We usually call these chamber orchestras. Still a lot of people involved, but not quite as awesome a mass as a full orchestra.
On the other end of the population spectrum we have chamber works. These are compositions meant to be played by small groups of musicians. Here’s a good way to remember: In many European countries, a bedroom is called a chamber, so think of chamber works as being played by a group of people small enough to comfortably fit in a bedroom.
A duo (played by two people), a trio (played by three), a quartet (four), quintet (five), sextet (heh heh… I said sex), septet (seven), and octet (eight) all constitute chamber works. Even more musicians are possible, but the bulk of chamber compositions will use one of the above amounts of peeps.
There’s also solo pieces, that is, works written for a single musician. These aren’t usually referred to as chamber pieces, even though they meet the above criterion. I’m not sure why. I could find out, but that would require doing some research, and I wanna hurry up and finish this so I can go back to knitting myself a new spatula.
Think how awesome this would look in Angora!
“What’s a concerto?!” you scream suddenly at the top of your lungs. Well, if you wanna sit down and use your inside voice, I’ll tell you…
A concerto is a piece of music written for a full orchestra but showcases a particular instrument. Therefore, if something is called a cello concerto, it means the music will be played by that huge group of musicians, but they’ll often take the background while a cello player shows off.
Think of it like Twisted Sister. The group consists of a bunch of dudes, all rockin’, but then Dee Snider takes center-stage and, while he depends on everyone else to make the music work, he becomes the focal point – the star. It’s like that.
So, if you’re looking for something with a big sound – something that will really fill your room and set the atmosphere, a symphony is a good way to go. And if you really like a particular instrument, like the flute, you might try out a flute concerto.
But if you want something easy to read to, or play during dinner parties, a chamber work is a more likely choice. Again, you can seek out chamber works for flute if that’s the instrument you’re gay for.
We’re just barely scratching the surface here, but knowing the above information is going to help a lot when shopping the Classical Section at Amoeba Music, as many albums are categorized using the above terms.
That’s all for this entry, with a promise of more to come. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some cookware to craft…