1,000 RECORDINGS TO HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE: A Listener's Life Guide

By Tom Moon
Workman Publishing CompanyAugust 2008

Paperback992 pages, $19.95, ISBN: 978-0-7611-3963-8
Subject: Music / Inspiration / History

  1. One thing I learned in researching 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die was that there's a big difference between listening with full attention and having music on in the background. In this way, the act of listening is much different from the act of reading. When was the last time you listened to a piece of music without doing several other things? What did you take away from that experience? What happens when you apply a "reader's focus" – attention to the details of narrative, writerly nuance, recurring devices, etc. – to an exploration of music?
  2. What are some of the ways a reading group might "sync" a book to particular pieces of music, in the manner of a wine-and-cheese pairing? By looking for connections based on history? Or geographical region? (One example: John Kennedy O'Toole's wry A Confederacy of Dunces is set in New Orleans, and so might come alive through music that has a bit of the Crescent City's rhythm, like Professor Longhair's New Orleans Piano, or a work that uses that rhythm to convey a wicked satirical streak, like Randy Newman's Good Old Boys.) Temperment? (There's certainly a similar sense of the heroic running through Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Beethoven's Violin Concerto.)
  3. Does music always reflect the era of its creation? When we hear baroque music, we're often transported to a particular period – to the point where we can "see" the gowns in the ornate ballroom, in much the way a historical novel sets a scene. But what about compositions that date slightly later, and are not so tethered to a particular image? Is it possible for a performer to interpret Mozart's piano works as "living music," so that the music feels somehow contemporary? What does it take to bring a century-old composition alive?
  4. One of my goals in compiling 1000 Recordings was to celebrate peak musical experiences from all over the world – there are records from Africa, Brazil, Cuba, the Far East, etc. In many cases, the lyrics are in languages other than English. At times, the words can be cryptic or impossible to discern, and often, therefore, not easily translated. Does this change the experience? Should it? Is knowing the meaning of a "text" essential to the appreciation of music?
  5. One important step in becoming a discerning reader or listener has to do with understanding what you don't like. Many people react to music on a purely visceral level; they're either swooning or covering their ears before the piece has ended. It's possible to get the sense of a piece of music within minutes, but it can often take longer to fathom the intricacies and ideas that drive a novel. Does this time-investment difference affect the way we perceive different artistic expressions? Are we more willing to stick with a challenging read for longer than we would a challenging piece of music?