I don’t use a lot of – well, any – streaming music services. I have more fun when I know what I have absorbed and what I haven’t, and the best way for me to do that is to buy (or, ah, otherwise permanently acquire) music and listen to it over and over as necessary. There’s something about having a well-defined music collection that I like. I know where it is, I know what’s in it and what’s not. For any given recording, I can tell you when I got it and why and what I like about it. The idea of listening to nothing but streaming music elicits an odd kind of stress reaction in me – unless I took copious notes, I would have no certain knowledge of what I’d listened to. And if I really enjoy a recording, I prefer to have it in my hot little hands so I can still listen to it if, you know, the internet goes out or I end up broke and I have to cancel things like streaming music subscriptions. Maybe it’s years of academic training, or just temperament: I feel happiest when I know what I know and what I don’t.
But Apple is offering this free trial of their streaming service, so I decided to try it. Also, I was curious how it would treat classical music. When you first open that part of the music app, you get an opportunity to choose your favorite genres. There were a few more options than visible in this picture – I think I’d already deleted Christian Rock and Hits and a few of the more poppy genres at this point. I do occasionally listen to things other than classical, but I wanted to keep it simple. (Also, I suppose I had better save the rant about condensing centuries of symphonies, chamber music, operas, sacred music, art songs, etc. etc. into a single genre. I mean, I would have all of those and more, and then one other category called “twentieth-century songs with a relatively simple chord progression that last about four minutes” and that would include 80% of that other stuff. This is why I am not currently employed as a designer of streaming music applications.)
Narrowing down the “artist” options took a while. Like many programs designed for pop music, this one doesn’t distinguish between composers and performers as artists. Fine, but as I think Cat once said to Lister when he read the baked potato timer rather than the impact warning sensor by mistake, things like this make us look like we don’t know what we’re doing.
I like R.E.M and the Clash as much as the next person, but I was hoping for a little more focus. (Remember that time a student came to office hours to talk about her quiz average and I thought we were going to talk about her quiz average, but I ended up hearing about how the devil didn’t want her to finish school and she showed me her surgical scars from ovarian cyst removal? It was like that, except less so, and I didn’t have to worry about whether the door was closed.) I fooled around a little more to see what was listed under recent releases, mixes and so on and had more luck. I had a look at a playlist of baroque trio sonatas, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a mix of whole pieces – they kept each sonata together rather than jumbling up different movements of different things, which was what I admit I expected. And there was one album available that I’d been considering buying, a recent recording of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos (my current one is from the 60s and while good, it’s kind of . . . old school). Searching for specific artists and recordings turned up better material, too.
Still, despite the self-evident seductions of options like “Alice Coote Radio,”** I’m not sure a subscription would be worth it for me, even though the try-before-you-buy aspect is attractive. (I admit, I got to thinking that I would like to do my own radio station. It would be called Radio Free Earworm and it would consist entirely of things that I like, sometimes on loops, interspersed with me reading selections from seventeenth-century colonial records. I would put Finn on to do the overnights, as the sounds of a small happy dog sleeping are rather soothing if you like dogs.)
*Don’t worry, I googled.
**For any artist, you can select an “[insert artist here] Radio” option that gives you a mix of tracks by that artist.