Orchestral Music Bible. From tick-tock to Tchaikovsky—and, confusingly, beyond. 304 pages, ★★★★
What to Listen for in Music is designed for lovers of orchestral music and the people who play it. Anyone else (who merely enjoys music—that’s most of us) would lose track in this book little further than halfway through.
This book starts with scores of pages of praise for the author, Aaron Copland. He’s venerated in this book as one of the Gods of modern music. He is explicitly thanked for having given the United States of America its own style of orchestral music in the 20th century. Bravo.
As someone who merely enjoys music (on the “sensuous plane” as author Aaron Copland puts it with polite condescension), What to Listen for in Music reads like a Buddhist scripture. The book’s “3 planes of musical enjoyment”, “4 elements of music”, “12 major scales” and “5 types of repetition” are reminiscent of the numbered lists so prevalent in Buddhism. These numbered lists, which comprise just over half the book, are quite simple to understand.
What to Listen for in Music gets difficult when all these lists get tangled together. Monophony (a single note) becomes homophony (harmony) and polyphony, which, when played in polyrhythmic, irregular time can be completely indecipherable to those of us who ‘merely enjoy’ music.
Most of all, I learned that when people talk about classical music, not all of them are being pompous name-droppers. Some of them actually love music, and have tuned their ears finely enough to appreciate the great minds who created it. After reading this book, I no longer tune out of conversations about classical music; I simply listen and aspire to fully appreciate. ★★★★
A self-employed salesman’s glorious transition to adulthood 317 beautifully-produced pages, ★★★★★
We all loved Steve Jobs‘ biography. Steve Jobs was a white slumdog millionaire, who followed his heart from poverty to the same superstardom that surrounds L. Ron Hubbard and Chairman Mao. Steve Jobs was the American Dream personified twice, with international reach: some Chinese youths even sold kidneys to buy an iPhone or iPad 2. If you loved the recent Steve Jobs biography, then you’ll connect with Decoded, too.
Jay-Z’s story is similar to that of Steve Jobs. Both their fathers left when they were young. Both were excellent showmen and both of them succeeded in business. Both became extremely successful in more than one field. Both were supporters of Barack Obama. Jay-Z didn’t enjoy the success on the same scale as Steve Jobs, but his starting point was also much lower (“…you could get killed for being on the wrong train at the wrong time”). Their climb was roughly equal.
“You could get killed for being on the wrong train at the wrong time” — Jay-Z
Jay-Z is a professional salesman. He started aged 13 by selling crack cocaine to supplement his single mother’s income, when a couple of characters from his inner circle introduced him to poetry to vent stress from the job. To date, none of this early-age poetry has ever been published.
Jay-Z kept (relatively, aside from selling crack cocaine) out of trouble and kept doing what he loved. He kept writing poetry. The skills he learned from selling crack cocaine (life’s too short; don’t do drugs; stay away from trouble; everyone’s trying to get their hands in your pockets) hardened him for the dog-eat-dog environment of the music industry, which he describes as “one of the most ruthless industries in America”.
“Being a recording artist on a major label is probably the most exploitative contractual agreement in America, and it’s legal.” — Jay-Z
Decoded helped me understand the journey I took in 2011. I used to crave the salaried office jobs that Jay-Z criticises (“American Dreamin'”, page 30), with the water cooler conversation (page 79) and the safety net of having a fixed salary (“Freakonomics”, page 75). Most of these jobs (especially corporate finance) are just as socially-useless, money-obsessed and unfulfilling as selling crack cocaine on the street. They bring large paycheck at the expense of huge social damage; and Jay-Z reminds us that subprime mortgages are much worse than crack cocaine. ★★★★★