April 24, 2007
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How would you know?

Driving to the office this morning, I was listening to Bach on my iPod and musing on the 80-CD set of the Complete Works I saw during Tinderbox Weekend in a Cambridge shop window across from Queens. That brought to mind the posters for interesting concerts that were affixed to church fences all over Cambridge, and led me to wonder: how can casual listeners in the US possibly learn about music they might like?

How, for example, could you find out about Jesu Meine Freude (BWV 227) if you listen to Bach the way I listen to Springsteen, say, or U2 — a few minutes here and there?

Years ago, record stores sold classical music and people actually visited record stores. Years ago, there were stations that played a wide range of classical music. And in some European cities — in Paris, say, or Cambridge — you see lots of posters advertising small performances of chamber and choral works in small halls and churches. But there's very little like that in Boston, and what do you do if you live in Tallahassee or Houston? Radio stations now have very tight playlists, so you hear plenty of Brandenburg concerti but you can go a long, long time before you'll hear a Baroque motet.

What you do, of course, is listen to recordings. But how do you find the recordings — how do you know that Bach wrote motets, or that you like motets — if you never hear them in concerts or on the radio or on the street?