Any thoughtful and intelligent response to this question could easily expand into an entire book-length exposition. As a life-long lover of classical art music in an age when this great tradition is being lost, especially among the young, I feel compelled to say something, anything, as a partisan enthusiast. Listening to classical music will change you as a person! There, I’ve said it! Yes, it’s that simple. IT WILL CHANGE YOU! We live in a superficial society and trivial pop culture of music and art that has a shelf-life of fifteen minutes, the proverbial “fifteen minutes of fame.” By contrast, the great works symphonic art music have endured the test of time and belong to the ages. If we would live rich and full lives that are receptive to the soaring heights and profound depths, swelling grandeur and subtile nuances of the human spirit, listening to classical music, along with exploring the great works of art and literature, will provide an excellent “sentimental education,” that is, a cultivation and refinement of our “sense and sensibility.”
I find that actively listening to the great composers and their masterpieces of classical music, whether medieval, renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic or modern, not only synchronizes my physical, emotional, intellectual and intuitive faculties, but sometimes leads to what Kurt Leland in his book Music and the Soul calls “Transcendent Musical Experience. Music is obviously a source of aesthetic pleasure. It can also be a mode of therapy, as Barbara Crowe indicates in her book, “Music and Soulmaking.”
Most passionate music lovers enjoy all kinds of music — including jazz, blues, soul, folk, rock, pop, ethnic and world music. I’m no different. But symphonic art music is special. It has a rich complexity that simultaneously engages our sensory, emotive, cognitive and intuitive centers of perception and awareness in an incredibly complex way that seems to speak to the whole person and to the totality of the human experience across time and beyond time.
OK. I’ll say it again. Listening to Classical Music will change you. Don’t just take it from me. Try it for yourself. Make it a regular part of your life. Read about the great composers, their personal struggles, their masterworks, and the times in which they lived. I recommend “The Lives of the Great Composers,” by Harold Schonberg. Or to learn more about the various historical and stylistic developments in classical music, read “A History of Western Music,” by Burkholder, Grout and Palisca.
In addition to your own CD collection and “tunes” on your I-Pod, for a few dollars a month you can subscribe to Rhapsody or Spotify to listen to all the great music in all musical genres — without commercial interruptions.
Let music change your life. But especially, make friends with the great composers — with Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Grieg, Chopin, Debussy, Ravel, and all the rest. Discover how different kinds of classical music speak to you at different times and in different ways. Let them reveal the many sides of your innermost being through an ineffable language beyond words. Let them stimulate your intelligence and inspire your creativity. Let their great music become a beautiful, sublime, heroic and picturesque soundtrack for your life.