What music do I really like?

  • Posted on: 2 February 2021
  • By: huw

What music do I really like?

Huw Jenkins

I recently looked at the list of music I’d listened to on Spotify in the last few months. It made me realise how narrow-minded and insular my musical listening becomes when I’m not being challenged by others.

The list contained quite a lot of organ music - reflecting pieces I’m trying to play as I look for inspiration as to interpretation from other organists. There was also the predictable mix of carols and Christmas music of different genres, along with various pieces of chamber music and more rock bands from the 70s and 80s than the chair of a choral society is probably expected to confess to.

But where was the challenging stuff? Or the large-scale orchestral works? Or opera?

It made me realise a lot of my more challenging listening comes about as a result of motivation from teachers, conductors, friends, and concerts over the years. But did my rather ‘safe’ listening really reflect the music I like? I rather suspect (and hope) not!

I was introduced to the music of Benjamin Britten through great music teachers at school - starting with the sea interludes from Peter Grimes. At university an illustrated lecture by the professor of music on the oratorios of Elgar as we were preparing The Kingdom gave me an appreciation I would never have got otherwise and when I finally sang The Apostles in the 90s it meant so much more. Also in the 90s, I sang Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass - a piece I’m sure I would not have come across otherwise, but I loved it. Sue, my wife, has threatened to have the organ solo from it at my funeral (not quite sure where she’s planning to hold that, but it won’t be played on Litlington’s organ!). My increasing love of opera has come about from having a friend in the chorus at Covent Garden who (at least before lockdown) regularly got me free tickets to dress rehearsals.

What really surprised me from the Spotify list was that I’d listened to Stainer’s The Crucifixion. It’s a piece I profess to not really liking; probably the result of a bad experience accompanying it in my teens. But I probably do really like it, after experiencing Andrew’s [the choral society’s Musical Director] somewhat less sentimental interpretation of it! Most recently, my current organ teacher has persuaded me to drop my phobia of Reger - and boy is it worth it! The music is so off-putting on the page (being so black!) but take it apart and it’s incredible. A very well-respected German organist and musicologist has said “It is best to play Reger’s organ music a bit incorrectly, but with great intensity and emotion”. That fits my technique perfectly!

So where am I going with all this? I guess what I’ve realised is that, left to myself, I’m unadventurous in my tastes. And yet those tastes continue to grow as I’m forced to try new things. There’s perhaps a message for us all. I think we do a good mix of the old and the new in the Royston Choral Society, yet we sometimes view the new with a sense of foreboding or reluctance. Perhaps, when lockdowns and social distancing are all behind us, we’ll remember how we missed being challenged during this time and embrace the new with increased excitement.

So, what music do I really like? Perhaps the real answer to that question is whatever I’m listening to at the time. Right now, I’d thoroughly recommend this.