I’ve noticed that you tend to have pretty wide ranging tastes in music, and your recommendation on introduction to classical music was pretty spot-on. I’m wondering what training/expertise you have in music theory/aural skills?…As someone who is obviously very intelligent but not a musician (that I know of), I wonder how you interact with Bach or other master composers – what criteria do you listen for? What makes great works stand out from the merely good?
My history is this:
1. I learned how to play the guitar when I was twelve or so, and also figured out how a piano works.
2. I spent about six years studying jazz chords, American popular song, some classic rock, early acoustic blues and ragtime, Fahey/Kottke, and Bach. I also learned how to listen with a score, at least for guitar and piano pieces.
3. Later in life, I focused on trying to make sense of early to mid 20th century classical music and Indian classical music, both excellent entry points for many of the other difficult musical genres and styles. I tried to learn at least something about micro-tonal musics and ragas.
4. Starting in my thirties, I tried to develop a basic familiarity with world musics, not so much the European folkie stuff as those based on different conceptual principles, such as some of the Arab musics, Chinese music, and African musics including the Pygmies.
5. I cultivated “music mentors” to help me understand these musics. Overall this is not a very book-intensive endeavor, though you will enjoy reading accompanying biographies.
I am not saying that is the right path for everyone, but I found it very rewarding, including for my broader understanding of history.
To address one of the specific questions, I think of Bach-Stravinsky, classic rock, and Indian classical music (live only) as covering some of mankind’s greatest cultural achievements, with only cinema in the running for possible parity. Most of all just listen plenty, noting that the canonical opinions about what is best are actually pretty much on the mark.