Pretty much the same as you. I began listening to classical in college without much direction. Foolishly, I bought Boulez's Nonesuch "Le Sacre," slapped it on the turntable, sat down to listen, and thought "Is this a joke?" I persisted with it, and before long I couldn't get it out of my head. Same with jazz. I still don't know what the hell most of it's about. But something in me responds to it. Even the atonal stuff. I guess it's like looking at a painting: I might not have a clue about the artist's purpose, but I can admire the colors, the form (especially if it's a nude), and the medium.
Welcome to the great world of both jazz and classical music.
Do you have a public radio station in your area? This can be a great way to expand your musical horizons.
here in central massachusetts I am blessed as I get good choice. WGBH fm out of Boston, WFCR out of Amherst, and a commercial classical station WCRB.
Between these I get a great selection of classical, jazz, and historical and modern blues. Maybe your area may offer you the same.
I find that listening to new music is like encountering a foreign language, a significant learning curve must be addressed before understanding it. Often, my initial discomfort is replaced by curiosity. I find that a lot of the music that I initially find abrasive, or jarring is music I ultimately enjoy greatly.
The Slapster strikes again.
Boy, you're missing out on the bi-aural experience! Although you've pretty much got it wired for any monophonic recordings...
Slappy, LOL. I can just picture you trying to get your 'ear' at tweeter highth. By the way, I've heard that this makes for an excellent passive tone control, reduces irritating highs and at the same time greatly increases the appearance of bottom end. Just be careful when some one comes into the room with a sharp stick!
Just like Siliab says, music is a language, and we have to learn the syntax and structure of a new language to become comfortable with it. I was lucky, my mom was a classical musician and I was exposed to it from day one. (Of course, her elitist dismissal of popular musics of all sorts meant I had to acquire that taste on my own.) The often repeated maxim that music is a universal language overly simplifies things. The elements of music are shared to varying degrees, how the are put together can render one form or another almost indecipherable to our ears at first. Repeated listening to new music without expectations of reward or understanding eventually will lead to familiarity and eventually appreciation I think. Of course, reading some music appreciation books about classical or jazz will enlarge our appreciation and comprehension a great deal.
There are some good points (& good humor) above. Music is like any other 'tradition'--film, literature, etc.--in that the broader your familiarity with the tradition, the more you'll appreciate individual contributions to it. Or to take Siliab/Photon46's language metaphor, your familiarity with a particular musical idiom or set of idioms will to a large extent govern your ability to understand what the music is doing. Same concept applies to a particular style, conductor, piece, whatever. I often find that the more difficult stuff grows on me, while music that is more easily accessible varies in the persistence of its appeal. In most cases, the latter-mentioned variability probably relates to greater formal complexity behind the beauty or tunefulness that first gets me (Mozart comes to mind here).
The suggestion to read some books is also a good one. I recently read Aaron Copland's _What to Listen for in Music_. I don't know what other people think about it, but for a guy like me, whose formal musical training ended with the fourth grade tonette choir, it could be a helpful starting place for a better understanding of music. Not that you really need to do anything but listen, though. :-)
That's a great question!
With Classical you'll have to understand what is expected (which takes work). You can enjoy the melodies, but you'll have to know how composers work within guidelines to come up with something new and unexpected, yet satisfying, terrifying, etc. Obviously, there is more to it than that, but it does take understanding the background and how it was developed.
Jazz is something that's hard to nail down also, but it's modern enough that you can just listen to some of the original stuff and understand it right off the bat.
But what the heck do I know. There has to be someone who could explain these types of music better than I just did.
Oh I forgot to mention:
"The Joy of Music" by Leonard Bernstein is a great book that talks about Music including Jazz and Classical.
I have had the tendency always to stick to music I am familar with, but of late even more so. I see it as a problem that is a symptom of a more general approach to life, so I have been determined to attend to it. What I have done is make a point when buying music to buy something I feel fairly assured I will like with the "penalty" of buying music that I am not the least bit familar with. It is a discipline, and I have to say I have stumbled across some music that I have really never come to understand and do not particulary care for. Less often I have come across a recording that totally suprised me and eventually became a favorite. The pay off here is that I would seek out other music that would fall into the same catagory and a whole new area of interest and involvement as developed as a result. Oddly enough, it has been true that the music I am quick to disregard upon first listen is assurdly the music I will most love after an initial exercise of repeated play.On the other hand,the music I have absolutely loved initially will usually come to bore me after the newness has worn off. I am not sure why this works this way, only that it has and does. as well, I have learned not to rid myself of music I have been unimpressed with initially because it seems I will come around to it again when the occasion arrives that I do. I believe it all has to do with timing- another kind of synergy where my mind and heart and events in my life have intersected and given that recording some meaning-perhaps revealed some meaning that had been previously absent. The result is I have a collection based on appeal rather than merit. It has not made for an impressive list of recordings, but what little I have has made me very happy overall. I admitt I have had to move from the desire to be more open minded to the actual effort of being open minded.It has been slow going, but I am pleased to say I do actually manage it and has had what I consider a positive effect on my general attitude and approach towards other areas of my life.
I think most people are like that. One nice thing these days is that you can download a song (or sample) and test it out before you buy a CD. In the past it was just hoping the CD was good without any idea what was on there unless it was on the radio first.
I justify downloading music through file sharing programs in order to listen to songs that are on the CD. I then erase them (seriously) after I've decided to buy the CD or not. The only factor left is the sound quality. That's the only chance I take unless there is a writeup online about that.
With used LPs, it's just taking a chance. Who knows what I'll find, whether it's worn out, scratched, or badly recorded. But given the used price of LPs, getting one good one out of 3-4 makes it worth it.
It does take time with new stuff, but I'm like you as far as not having a huge collection. The stuff I have I really enjoy.