Familiar is Good

Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - 04:28 PM


On my coffee table (more like empty glasses/laptop table) are small stacks of CDs that include Garrick Ohlsson‘s recording of Chopin's Nocturnes and Glenn Gould’s “The Young Maverick” set.

There are also CDs by living composers on the table. I had been reluctant to open the new music because I had never heard it, and in that moment I didn’t want to be disappointed. I wanted to be fulfilled. I wanted the familiar.

After admitting to myself that I just didn’t feel up to doing the work of listening, I did it anyway. I took that plunge and opened a CD of new music. It was a disc of music by Chinary Ung, a composer born in Cambodia in 1942 who relocated to the West Coast.

Chinary Ung composes chamber and orchestral music and says his music is a spiritual path. For a few days now, I’ve been listening to Ung's Child Song and I’m hearing new ideas and fresh conversations. Every time I re-listen, I search for something new while simultaneously listening for any fragment that I remembered from the previous hearing. As it turns out, even though the music is new, it can quickly become familiar and good.  Whether the music is familiar or not, what do you listen for?

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Comments [8]


In your monomaniacal rush to sing for us you failed to credit Felix Mendelssohn for having written the Reformation Symphony.

Sep. 20 2010 09:56 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from Lake Hiawatha, NJ

Familiar often implies something perhaps not too exciting to see or hear, but, anecdotally, conversely, it may imply also a sentimental virtue well beyond the intrinsic value or beauty. In my own case I thoroughly enjoy singing music that has become part of my being, like osmosis, but not a passive, but rather planned, rehearsed, analyzed and presented time after time performance. Dealing with masterpieces of concert, opera, Broadway musical or folk music literature every repeat can be a new experience in terms of the audience for the presentation or in terms of a different format or venue. CDs of my performances or of performers whom I admire, familiar or not, their particular fascination could be the circumstances of the moment. Familiarity does not breed contempt if the selection is cherished. Kenneth Bennett Lane, Wagnerian heldentenor and opera composer: "Shakespeare" & "The Political Shakespeare" and director, the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, where actors are coached in thew Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers are prepared for the Wagner opera roles. Website: wwwWagnerOpera.com, where 37 complete selections from my four live performances in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall can be downloaded at "Recorded Selections" including songs, a song cycle and many Wagner arias and music of Beethoven, Halevy, Grieg, Jacopo Peri, Gastaldon, Verdi and Mahler.

Apr. 20 2010 04:56 PM
Frank Feldman

This blog speaks to the "honey, they're playing our song" theory of music appreciation.

Apr. 06 2010 07:29 PM
SusanW from NYC

I listen for a fresh take, something new, something which forces me to have an opion on the music (whether I like it or not). Art which arouses strong feelings, positive or negative, is always preferable (for me) than something well done but less challenging. When I first got seriously into jazz, classical, opera, etc. I was just content with the familiar...I've moved well beyond that plateau at this point.

Apr. 05 2010 01:49 PM
Frank Feldman

Honesty, passion and an internally consistent, coherent language capable of expressing the aforementioned.

Apr. 04 2010 02:35 PM
Eveth from Hackensack

I listen for something that captivates my spirit and connects to my heart through the beautiful path of sound.

Apr. 04 2010 02:14 PM
Chaz F. from Passaic. NJ

The hayden trumpet concerto in e flat just played, please research the version cut in the mid 60s by spanish trumpet player Raphael Mendez. It makes Wynton's version sound like my audition piece for NJ All state High school Orchestra. No kidding.. Ever want to hear a player breathe fire out of his horn? This is the version for you. Rare. Obscure, and trancendental. Those purists who will cry blasphemy, they never picked up a horn. True..
Keep up the great work.

Mar. 31 2010 11:15 PM

Wow! This has been up for over 6 hours with no attention.

New. I listen for new. I look for young composers with something to say who I can get behind and support, especially if they have been vetted by Innova.

But I will always by Michael Gordon, David Lang, Ethel, Mark O'Connor, Nico Muhly, Nadia if she cuts another disc, ACME if they would cut a disc, Belinda Reynolds, Alex Shapiro.

My deal is I support living composers. Not very well, I buy only .mp3; but I do buy, constantly.

Mar. 30 2010 11:21 PM

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Ignite your love of classical music every day with the articles published in the WQXR blog. Here you can find blogs about classical music, playlist selections, curated videos, and other features highlighting the joy of great music.