Classical music: too many decisions

I mentioned once that two years ago, I discovered that they made music prior to 1960, and some of it didn’t even involve guitars.

Classical music has been a learning adventure for me in several respects. For one thing, there are a lot more decisions to be made simply due to the nature of the beast. To whit: everything is a “cover.”

If you listen to Rob Thomas’s “Ever The Same” and you like it, you can go to iTunes and locate the song and download it, and it’s exactly what you hear on the radio.

If you turn on your local classical music station and you hear something, the process is quite different.

For one thing, there are no lyrics, so you can’t say, “Well, it was Beethoven singing, and I caught the words ‘Fur Elise’ in the chorus.”

You might listen for the end of the block of music when the deep-voiced, serious-sounding announcer gets on — possibly the same guy who gives the information at the end of a car commercial — and rattles off, “That was Vivaldi’s Concerto for Guitar in D, RV. 93 by the Zurich Chamber Orchestra conducted by Howard Griffiths with Sharon Isbin on guitar.”

Are you going to remember all that? Me neither.

Instead you become familiar with the playlist function on your radio’s website, which probably links to Arkiv Music.

(For the — er, record, I have no idea what my father did to learn all those pieces. He must have gotten real good at memorizing long strings of information.)

Okay, so now you know the name of the thing you liked, and you hop over to iTunes to pick it up on the cheap. You type in “Vivaldi Guitar Concerto in D” and up come about 200 choices. If you have the RV number, you can narrow it down to 15 versions of the same piece.

Of course, the one you heard on the radio isn’t one of them.

You preview some thirty-second clips and they all sound pretty much the same.

And ideally you pick one, and you like it.

(It’s a great deal, by the way. Sharon Isbin has probably practiced her guitar for upwards of two hours a day every day since she was five years old, I’m assuming, and I pay ninety-nine cents to reap the benefits of that. Musicians are very underappreciated.)

But in reality, what happens to me is I angst over it. I wonder whether the Academy of Saint Martin In The Fields should be getting my money, or the Royal Philharmonic. Which is The Best Version?

Then one day, something even stranger occurs: I hear a version on the radio of something I already own, and it’s subtly different. I like the differences, so now I want that version of the same thing.

Versions. It’s the geek way of listening to music. “Yeah, I thought Itzhak Perlman’s version of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto was skillfully rendered, but Hilary Hahn’s evokes more of the orchestral dialogue with the soloist.” (Or whatever musically smart people say.)

It makes my head spin. I have new fields for my geekiness to run amok into. Plus, new ways to spend money, ninety-nine cents at a time.

Sadly, it means dozens more decisions than I ever needed to make when all I had to do was type “Rob Thomas” into the iTunes search box. But I think it’s worth it.