|What about ALL those composers?!
As you have no doubt noticed as we have worked on the Romantic era and now the "Twentieth-Century" era (and beyond), there are a lot of composers to know about! Compared to earlier eras, from which we might have only really focused on three or four per era, the number of composers we must look at in these two eras is daunting.
You can come to terms with this, but it will require you to begin working on this early - waiting until just before the final test is likely to prove to be a very poor choice! It will take some organization - more below about a strategy that can help. It will take some time - you can get a handle on these composers, but it will require you to devote some time to the work.
Associating things with one another helps recall
There might be a few of you who can simply plug away at memorizing lists of composers' names and the eras to which they belong, but for most students that is likely to be a frustrating experience and one that does little to help you understand and own this information. As is the case with almost anything you learn, you are likely to be more successful if you associate multiple concepts such that the recall of one can trigger recall of others, and so that you'll see connections between these things.
When it comes to composers, you might consider constructing a scaffold for remembering them that associates the following for each composer:
Somewhere between knowing nothing about the composer and knowing everything lies the sweet spot that is appropriate for Music 1A students.
- The composer's name
- The composer's era
- A basic key "association" with that person
- A few related important facts
- The most important piece(s) used to illustrate this composer's work in the book/lecture.
- Something that catches your attention about the composer.
You are at a partyHere is a scenario. Imagine that you are at a party. You see some person that you would like to talk to and perhaps impress just a bit. He or she walks over to you and says something like, "I like classical music. How about you?" (Hey, it could happen!) There are two ways to go way wrong here. One would be to reply with something like, "Uh, classical music? What's that?" At the other extreme would be replying as the World's Biggest Music Nerd, and launching into some lengthy diatribe intended to impress your "victim," as he or she backs away slowly.
A better response might be closer to your starting point as you study the composers for this class. How about dialog that goes more like this?
Other Person: "I like classical music. How about you?"
You: I do, too. I'm taking a class in it right now in college.
OP: Really? Who is your favorite composer?
You: We're studying Romantic era music, and I like Schubert art songs. A little geeky, but some of them are cool.
OP: I've heard of those. Which is your favorite?
You: I like Die Forelle. It seems like it is about a fish, but you can read more into it than that if you want. I like the melody, too.
OP: I'm trying to remember. When was Schubert alive?
You: Right around the beginning of the 1800's, when the Romantic era started.
OP: What else did he write?
You: A lot of songs, but he also wrote some symphonies and other stuff. And the thing that amazes me is that he did all of this even though he died when he was barely 30!There. That wasn't so bad, was it? You just needed to remember Schubert's name, that he was associated with art songs, something about one or more specific songs, a few more key facts, and what era he belonged to. (No, this doesn't make you an expert, but that can be our secret.)Having this level of knowledge for each composer will be a great start. Sure, there is much more to learn eventually, but with basic information like this you'll be able to respond competently to questions about the composers, the music, and the eras. On top of that, you'll start to see the larger connections and patterns among the composers.So... start now.
There are probably a variety of methods you could use to assemble and "own" this knowledge. Some of you may already know exactly what works for you. If you don't, you could try an exercise like the following:
Now that you know the names of composers and the eras to which they belong:
- Take out a blank piece of paper and close your notes and text book.
- Write the name of an era ("Romantic") at the top of the page. Write down a list of Romantic era composers you have studied. Stop and ponder if you forget one or two, but eventually realize that you are done.
- Open your notes and/or text and check what you see there against your list. Note who you forget and who you included who should not be on the list.
- Repeat the process a few times until you are confident of 99% or better success.
An even better way to do this, or perhaps a way to augment this process, is to sit down with one or more other students in the class and do something similar. For example, one student might name the era and another would then have to come up with the name of a composer. Or one might name the composer and another might try to come up with one of the knowledge categories listed above. You can probably think of other variations on this.
- Get a small notebook or sheaf of paper. Close your notes and text book.
- At the top of each piece of paper write the name of one of the composers so that you have a sheet for each.
- On each sheet write down the era of the composer (that should be easy now), your "tag" (one or two word label) for the composer, list of 2-4 most important things, a musical idea or movement associated with the composer, and then name of at least one most important piece and a fact or two about it. (Even better... do this while playing that piece!)
- Repeat the process until you are very confident of your ability to do this.
I'm not claiming that this will be a fun exercise, especially at first. But I can almost guarantee you that any student who takes this on will get a real handle on the music and composers of the Romantic and Twentieth Century.