David and Art - "Looking Backward and Looking Forward"

Dec 30, 2019

The end of the year is a good time to look back over at new art that you may have missed

One thing I always look forward to at the end of every year are the little retrospectives that come out in newspapers, magazines, and blogs about what things constituted the best art of the preceding 12 months. I like reading lists of what knowledgeable people think were the best recordings, the best plays, the best art exhibits, over the course of the year. Inevitably I’ve heard of, or seen, or listened to, far fewer of these than I should have and, I always have to admit that on some of the lists, I’ve never even heard of most of them.

Ted Gioia is a prolific historian and cultural critic who lives in the Dallas area and writes on music and music history. Every December he publishes a list of the 100 best recordings that he’s listened to over the previous year. I would do well to have listened to a fraction of that many, start-to-finish, in the serious way that he does.    I look forward to him publishing his list through his webpage and on Twitter or whatever and I begin to go through and listen to snippets of all the music that he recommends as being the best of the past year.

There are all kinds of genres on his list and part of the fun is reading his descriptive classifications.  In addition to traditional phrases like “jazz piano trio,” or “pop singer-songwriter,” we get “tuba-driven dance jazz from London,” or “ecological orchestral soundscapes,” or “neglected love songs from a Flemish Renaissance liturgical composer,” or “Scottish Singing Storyteller.”  Whimsical, yes, but I think he does it in part just to hint at the wild diversity that is music itself, and to remind us that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies—or however Shakespeare put it.

There are always some that I don’t like, but just as inevitably there are some that just make me stop in my tracks. I remember last year by the time I’d worked my way through the top 30 on his list, I had bought three of them.  They have absolutely nothing in common with each other except their creativity, their quality, and the fact that I enjoy listening to them still.  I’m looking forward to getting into his list as soon as I get my final grades turned in.  iTunes get ready.

What do we learn from this?  It’s the old dichotomy in the arts between the unknown and the known—the resistance that we all have to getting out of our comfort zone.  I want to be better at listening to music that I don’t know.  I don’t mean the top 40: I don’t have any use for most pop music today, but very little on this list is the kind of evanescent pop that we won’t even remember when next Christmas rolls around.

My New Year’s Resolution is to broaden my musical knowledge and experience.  Try to incorporate some new stuff more regularly into my playlist.  Some different things.  Gioia’s list is a great place for anyone to encounter a new favorite.