Classical Music in the Digital World, or, Why I Still Love Hard Media


I have never been one to eschew new technologies and I certainly appreciate the wealth of music, books, blogs and other digital feasts that are now available to the world for free or for a very small fee. However, with the availability of mass quantities of anything, comes the down side of having to wade through a ton of junk, and of having less that competent people doing the cataloging.

This shoddy bookkeeping is a major problem with the digital world and classical music. Although there is a wealth of titles available on subscription services such as Rhapsody, Spotify, Songza and Pandora, there is only one site, The Naxos Music Library, that even comes close to adequate and accurate labeling of these recordings. Additionally, NML is the only such site that has an adequate search engine enabling the listener to quickly find and stream recordings.

The problems are myriad. Missing composer and performer data, the lumping of multi-movement works under one generic title (often the wrong one), labeling music by the artist and not the composer, the labeling of composer’s works without identifying the artist, ¬†and the listing of tempo markings for movements without identifying the entire work are just a few of the irritating problems lovers of western art music face when trying to find their favorite works in the digital sphere. Unless you are very well versed in serious music and its canon of recordings, it would be easier to translate Sanskrit with a German dictionary than to browse the classical music selection on Rhapsody or Spotify.

Playlist type services such as Pandora and Songza usually only offer single movements of larger works (although Pandora finally came out with a complete works station a few months ago) and they offer only the most cursory information about the music and performers that they stream.

Add to that the total absence of program notes and performer biographies (again, the notable exception is the Naxos Music Library which is like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way) and the frustrations for serious connoisseurs of serious music mount into a pile of obstacles that isn’t really worth the effort to overcome.

Thus, as much as I appreciate the ability to play thousands of pieces of music on my iphone as I take my daily exercise, I could never discard my collection of hard media, predominantly housed on the ever faithful vinyl record. My vinyl collection grows every day and I am amazed at how much I enjoy the old format. Some years ago I rid myself of my large cd collection and ripped the whole thing to a hard drive. That’s a decision that I regret more each day.

Enter the bargain bin!! Luckily for those of us who still love things made of plastic and having huge collections of media as a symbol of our intellectual and cultural prowess, thousands of compact discs are now languishing in bargain bins and thrift stores. If one is into serious music, ’tis very likely that one is also meticulous about the care of one’s treasures, thus, dollar bin classical cds are oft in pristine condition. This is a great thing for those of us on tight budgets!

Between the thrift store up the street from me that sells vinyl for fifty cents a pop, and cds for a buck fifty, and my local branch of the public library that sells used books and cds for a dollar each, I’ve been having a field day finding cheap treasures. And so gentle readers, I embark on an occasional new series that will be called Dollar Delights, treasures found for a buck. My first review will appear here anon, so Read on, MacDuff!

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