Even though Summer 2021 feels like a brand new world of in-person music-making and reuniting (and hugging tightly!) friends we haven’t seen in a while, there’s still going to be time to read. I found a few of these books during Covid, and I highly recommend all five. Each is unique, and each teaches us something new about what we hear and how we hear it. Our friends at The Read Queen (129 N. Harrison, Lafayette/303-974-5978) can order them for you!
Music and humanity share a parallel history. From the book flap: “165 million years ago saw the birth of rhythm. 66 million years ago was the first melody. 40 thousand years ago, Homo Sapiens created the first musical instrument.” That’s a long time between milestones, and the author explains what happened in between. The very recent development of recorded music happened around 1870. We can guess what orchestras sounded like during Beethoven’s time or operas in Monteverdi’s, but we don’t really know. Spitzer also brings up controversy and looks frankly at the inherent racism in western music. It’s a good thing to face, and Spitzer is an excellent guide.
Covid took away most celebrations of Beethoven’s 250th birthday last year. But many orchestras are carrying over delayed programming through this year (including the Colorado Music Festival, with the Violin Concerto and Seventh Symphony). Guerrieri discusses how Beethoven’s Fifth – more accurately, the first four notes of the work – have engendered meaning and significance since they were composed two centuries ago. This book is a deep dive into music history, Beethoven, and the universal significance of the Fifth Symphony.
From the back cover: Music: A Subversive History is essential reading for anyone interested in the meaning of music, from Sappho to the Sex Pistols to Spotify.” The author explains how music has been part of revolutions, upheavals, rebellion, and evolution. “Riff-raffs, insurgents, and provocateurs” have been oppressed and music has defined, symbolized and represented their causes. Gioia traces the evolution of music from the sacred to the role of entertainment and the audience as arbiter of what’s “good” and what’s not. He tells us what we never learned in “Music and Western Civilization” and upsetting this particular apple cart is a good thing.
More than 60% of people over the age of 12 have some level of hearing loss. That’s a staggering and really upsetting statistic. Owen talks about his own journey with tinnitus, a syndrome that many of us experience at some point in our lives (particularly musicians, from orchestra players to heavy metal guitarists. I have it, too). Volume Control looks at how we’ve adapted to hearing loss and how we’ve adopted various interventions for improving hearing. You don’t have to read this book to be cautious about your hearing, but it is a fascinating look at all things auditory.
And now for something completely different…The Great Animal Orchestra teaches us about the connection between music and natural sound. Humans love to look at and bask in nature, and this book shows us how to listen to the natural world. I was intrigued in particular by Krause’s term “biophony,” or the collective vocal sounds that non-human animals make. The world is rich in these sounds, and learning to listen to them enriches our inner worlds.