IDEA #10. Go to a concert or performance of music from a tradition you’ve never listened to before
It should not be terribly hard to find music from unfamiliar traditions, if only because even Western “Classical” is so little heard and appreciated by young Americans in the age of American Idol; in many of the cities and suburbs of “blue states” country-and-western music is equally rare. But while even an afternoon or evening of Mozart or Hank Williams might fit the bill here, I’d urge readers to push the envelope further still. In many communities with either significant immigrant populations or universities with many international students musical performances from many cultures are very easy to find. Even in the absence of these resources, world music concerts abound; some religious institutions regularly welcome musicians from around the world, sometimes but not always playing tunes relating to their faith.
What should the listener be alert for? New instruments, new voices, new languages, and some times even music whose entire structure and tonal properties are significantly different from the familiar. What activities or concerns generated this music? Are the familiar themes and anxieties of the listener’s culture present in the “new” music?
If live performance is just too hard to find, a trip to the recorded music section of the public library might turn up a few surprises. It’s also been my experience that many restaurants play culturally appropriate music; perhaps a friendly restaurateur would be willing to lend a tape(!) or a disc or two. Some specialized food stores actually rent music to members of their community.
And if the internationally exotic is just not accessible, consider the multitude of musical traditions that have arisen and thrive in our own culture but few of us fully know or appreciate: gospel, Delta blues, Big Band, traditional folk, Old Timey, bluegrass, Gullah, and dozens of distinct Native American musical forms. All of these are available in recorded form, and some can be streamed from the Internet or even found on the radio.