How to Start Your Own Classical Music “Book” Club

Although most of my blog posts are tailored towards musicians, I am passionate about spreading the joys of classical music to everyone – musicians and non-musicians alike. Whether you played an instrument as a child, know a musician, or just enjoy classical music, I believe everyone should have a basic understanding and appreciation for classical music. That’s why I’m here – to help you create your own classical music appreciation club.

Classical music often gets a bad reputation. My (non-musician) friends still don’t understand how I can sit through such long pieces when they are used to catchy, synthesized tunes in under five minutes. The general population associates classical music with stuffy old people coughing in pretentious concert halls. If you ask most people, classical music is considered dead.

Newsflash: It isn’t!

Let me ask you a question: Have you seen the new Star Wars movie? Did you like the music? Well, you just admitted to enjoying classical music! Classical music doesn’t have to be Mozart or Beethoven (although both are excellent). Classical music represents the entire scope of human emotions, from love to loss, heartbreak to triumph, and ecstasy to sorrow. Classical music is a response to love, violence, kindness, romance, oppression, war, and victory. Classical music is blind to race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, social standing, and political viewpoint. Classical music is an escape from the ordinary into the sublime.

Have I convinced you to give classical music a shot? Here’s how to organize your classical music club. Let’s get started:

  • Find other people who would be interested in discussing classical music. Send out e-vites, iMessages, or an old-fashioned letter – just get the word out for your classical music club. (Optional: Nerdy music club names, such as Bach’s Babes or Poulenc’s Posse. The punnier, the better!)
  • Decide on a piece of music or composer to be discussed. If you need inspiration, peruse the International Music Score Library Project by composer, instrument, or other category. If anyone in your club can read music, there are hundreds of thousands of scores to look at for free on this website. If you want to be true to the book club’s roots, check out the Norton History of Western Music textbook. The gold standard for college music history courses, this is an informative yet easily understandable source for all of western music history. Still out of ideas? Contact a local music store, college music department, or church choir director for suggestions.
  • Set a date. Schedule your first meeting. How often you meet is up to you and your group, but I suggest at least once a month. Let everyone know the pieces and/or composers to be discussed and suggest everyone bring in their favorite recording and any interesting information they discovered.
  • Listen to the piece(s) and research the composer’s biography. These are easily achieved with resources such as YouTube, iTunes, and Wikipedia, but you have the entire Internet and any public libraries at your disposal.
  • Suggested topics for discussion: Why did the composer write this piece? How old was he/she when it was written? What was going on in the composer’s life that might have inspired this piece? Did any historical events inspire the composer to write this piece (war, love, family dispute, etc)? Was this piece written for any specific person or ensemble? How would this piece sound on other instruments? How many movements are in this piece? Was this a famous piece during the composer’s life? Which recording is your favorite? Did you like this piece? (By the way, it’s perfectly okay to not like all classical music. That’s another misconception about classical musicians – we dislike some pieces that we perform, and that’s okay.)

Optional ideas:

  • Hire a local music teacher to lead the discussion. Sometimes people can be shy about new subjects. Bring in the expert! They will have recommendations for other composers and pieces based on your musical preferences.
  • Create themes. Discussing Stravinsky? Have everyone bring Russian snacks. Get creative with themes – dress up in the style of the composer’s life. Bring food native to the composer’s country. Find movies that use the composer’s music. Pick a country and only discuss composers from that country. Music clubs should be educational, but that doesn’t mean they have to be boring!
  • Plan musical outings. Support your local symphony orchestra. Many movie theaters show full-length operas (with subtitles) on the weekends. Visit a university music department to find student recitals. Listen to a church choir or organist. Music is all around if you know where to look for it.
  • Discuss books. Want to do more than listen to music? Here are some of my favorite books about classical music easily understood by non-musicians:
    • Mozart in the Jungle by Blair Tindall
    • The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein
    • Norton Lectures by Leonard Bernstein (transcribed as a book, but also a video series on YouTube)
    • The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross
    • Beethoven’s Letters by Beethoven
    • What to Listen for in Music by Aaron Copland
    • This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin
    • any composer biography (I recommend Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Mozart, and Carlo Gesualdo) While you’re at it, I always enjoy reading weird tidbits about composers or strange composer deaths. Some composers deserve their own Lifetime movies!

What are you waiting for? There’s an entire world of classical music waiting to be discovered! Grab some friends and have a great time!

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