Getting the Notes

Our kitchen radio is an old portable radio which we run on AC. The news of Irene sent me out looking for C-cells on Saturday, which was too late. C and D-cells had been sold out for hours all around town. As an alternative I looked for a small portable radio – they were gone too.

I really wanted to have a portable radio as backup in case we lost power (which we did for 3.5 hours). As I was driving to the mall where there is a Radio Shack, Target, and Best Buy, I remembered that some MP3 players have FM radio built in. My daughter had portable speakers for MP3 players that ran on AA cells. I purchased a Sansa Clip+.  I tried it, and it worked well.

We were fortunate in that we didn’t suffer any damage. After loading some Brahms, Berlioz, and Vaughn-Williams on my player, I went out to pick up the many sticks that littered the yard. Listening to music (Brahms’ Piano Trio Op. 8), made the chore much more pleasant.

As I walked across the yard, I started to think about the Walkman and how they seemed so advanced back in the 1980s. The idea of carrying your own music selection with you was pretty radical. Previously we had transistor radios about the size of a cigarette pack on steroids, but we had to listen to whatever was broadcast. The Walkman allowed us to listen to a cassette tape of up to 120 minutes. Given the size of the cassette, we could pop another 120-minute cassette in a shirt pocket. That was a lot of music.

My MP3 player has 4 Gb. I copied the music from some of my CDs. Even with six hours of music, I’ve barely filled it. I was a impressed that such a little device (it easily fits in the palm of my hand) can hold so much content.

Picking up sticks was not overly stimulating, so my mind wandered. I know that with music sites selling recorded music, the work I did this morning, transferring music from CD to MP3 player is going away. While very convenient to go from web to device, I realized a loss, too.

LPs and CDs often had some notes about the music as part of the package. As an example, the Brahms piano trio CD, which I transferred this morning, has four trios and  three and a half pages of notes in very tiny type. The notes are informative. I realized I learned a lot about music from reading the notes while listening to the music.  That doesn’t happen now with downloadable music.

Downloading music from the web doesn’t give us a trail of music notes or other information about the piece. We may not even be aware of the musicians playing it or each movement’s tempo.  We probably won’t learn why the composer created the piece we’re listening to.  Without the notes from the CD, I wouldn’t have known that Brahms wrote the Op. 8 in 1854 and drastically revised it in 1889 and kept the same opus number.  If you listened to Wagner’s Siegfried’s Idyll, without notes would you know he wrote it for his wife as a Christmas present?

Don’t get me wrong.  I think MP3 players are wonderful devices because they make possible the opportunity to listen to the music we wish to hear almost whenever we want to hear it.  It makes listening to music very easy, but given the way we can acquire it today, it also increases the opportunity to listen to music superficially.  In so doing, we may lose the deeper appreciation of music that comes with learning about its history.


About Quentin Chin

Eclectic interests: religion, technology, food, music, current events. I live in the reality-based world.
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