Since a Son House record opened my ears, I have dabbled in Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters and a little bit of Howlin' Wolf, but I never really got the bigger picture of the delta blues, mostly for lack of access to more seasoned enthusiasts.
Had someone told me earlier that Patton often played his guitar behind his back or that he and one of his many wives shared a jail cell, his tunes would have taken on a whole new meaning.
Sadly, my options for meeting jazz and blues aficionados these days are bleak. It's doubtful that I will find myself suddenly conversing about the American roots of music at a trendy Manhattan bar that offers a steady stream of digestible dance hits, eliciting squeals of recognition from cosmo-grasping gals.
But if you are truly interested in something beyond Beyonce, the experts are still out there. Their jazz appreciation programs have no prerequisites, and you don't even have to own an iPod.
It may be 2007, but nobody wants to be labeled a square.
Swing University at
Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York claims to offer the hippest classes in town for anyone who wants a jazz refresher or those sad souls who don't know a thing about swing.
While you won't get to wail on the sax, Phil Schaap, Lincoln Center's curator, will explain jazz to you, sans the pretense or lofty language.
"I won't teach you trumpet or piano or drums, but I'll teach you the history, the context, the culture, while telling you some good stories," says Schaap.
Swing University offers expanded jazz education for adults at introductory, intermediate and advanced levels. Special guest lecturers like Jazz at Lincoln Center's artistic director Wynton Marsalis, pianist and educator Dick Katz and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra trombonist Vincent Gardner will give you more concentrated jazz info than you can shake a feather at.
Representative Dana Barden explains, "
The classes really give people who might not have been otherwise exposed to jazz the opportunity to learn something."
Plus, explains Barden, the classes are less intimidating than instrumental instruction, especially for students who often don't have the money and time to devote to mastering an instrument.
For the spring term, the University offers "Hard Bop: The Style That Made Bebop Funky," a course on Duke Ellington, and Advanced Jazz History.
Classes range from four to eight sessions, span about a month and cost around $250.
Legend has it that the first trumpet was created when someone cut the end off a shell to try to get at a fish stuck inside. Fact or embellished fiction, few people know this tale or even the true evolution of the instruments constituting an orchestra.
Oklahoma City Philharmonic's program
Meet the Orchestra, you can discover the mysteries of the harp straight from the person who plays it, and learn why selecting a violin bow is like buying a car.
The class meets once a week for seven sessions and is taught by Jake Larson, a trumpet player with the Philharmonic and retired professor of music from the University of Oklahoma.
Designed for adults, the class teaches participants about classical music, composers and the Philharmonic in laid-back, two-hour question-and-answer sessions with Philharmonic musicians.
Many students take the class more than once because the content varies with each musician. "We have the ability to bring in different musicians in the orchestra to give
each class a different spin," says Kris Markes, director of education.
Students have the opportunity to stay and watch Philharmonic rehearsals, which just happen to take place after the class, as well as to explore backstage.
The typical student is a baby boomer who had more childhood music education in the classroom, says Markes, but students represent the entire gamut of music knowledge.
"This is a great introduction to what the orchestra is about," Markes continues, emphasizing that students learn everything about the workings of the orchestra, including the business aspect and what it takes to pull off a performance. "We don't just make pretty music," she says.
The class is vital in that it bridges the gap between the orchestra and the public, making the concert experience less intimidating to an audience member. "The more knowledge you have, the more thirst there is
for more," says Markes.
Surprisingly, many students are not Philharmonic subscribers or even regular concertgoers. After the class, however, some do sign up for the concert season.
The course is offered about once a year and the dates vary year to year. The seven classes cost $85, all backstage privileges included.
Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago takes music appreciation to another level by putting the instrument in your hands. Don't worry, you don't have to know what to do with it.
For beginners, the school teaches what Bob Medich, director of advertising and media, calls "folk music with a capital 'F.'" After your first group lesson, you'll find yourself playing typical chord staples from
After you've mastered the favorites, there's plenty of room to progress through guitar one and two and repertoire classes.
Classes consist mostly of adults, many of whom not only have an interest in folk music, but also seek a release from office culture.
Think of spending all day downtown at a brokerage,
then get on the L and come up here and play guitar with a bunch of people that are your friends," says Medich.
Whether you start off with guitar, fiddle or Irish percussion, you will begin to see where the music comes from and how it's structured, not only through learning its history and background, but by putting yourself in the musicians' shoes, Medich explains.
"It's just a good thing to make art for yourself and to be able to express yourself musically," he says. The teachers, including one with a Ph.D. in folklore, range from academy-trained to self-taught. Classes run once a week for eight weeks at $150.
It's never too late to pick up an instrument or some new knowledge in a music appreciation class. Plus, you'll never have to worry about a midterm exam.
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