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What if we could connect classical music to the spirit of our times, rather than look back over the history of long dead composers?

Davina Caddy.

Davina Caddy. Photo: Awa Press

Spanning from the earliest plainsong chants to today’s most avant-garde contemporary classical music offerings, the scope of How to Hear Classical Music is epic.

Writer/presenter Davinia Caddy will open your eyes and ears to the endless adaptability of classical music, its enduring appeal, and its extraordinary power and reach. Each episode features musical excerpts to illuminate the writer’s perspective.

Adapted from Davinia Caddy's book of the same name, published by Awa Press.

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Music Producer: Hannah Darroch, Script Producer: Duncan Smith, Sound Engineer: Phil Brownlee.

From author Davinia Caddy:

"Classical music tends to get a bad press these days. Books about it can be pretty dull – especially the technical, teach-yourself kind, the ones that drone on about music’s notated form and bore you with details of chords, cadences, keys and scales. There’s also been a rush of recent titles that whiff of desperation – books that seek to defend classical music against the perceived evils of the modern age. They tell us – lecture us, so it seems – why we should be paying more attention, closer attention, to classical music, why this music deserves our respect and reverence, and why we mustn’t let social media, cinema and so on – really, contemporary culture – tarnish the music of the Great Composers. 

But what if we were to push a different line, to swap the sermonising for something more celebratory and hopeful? What if we could look out across today’s classical-music scene and applaud what was going on? What if we could connect classical music to the spirit of our times, rather than look back over the history of long dead composers? And what if we could focus our attention on precisely those things that the other books so maligned: the influence of technology and mobile-music gadgets, the challenge of popular music, the ubiquity of so-called armchair or easy listening? 

These questions spawned How to Hear Classical Music, a book that sets out to explore how classical music is faring in today’s world of frenzied face-book updates and wireless wizardry. Partly autobiographical, the book seeks to investigate what classical music means to listeners (and to non-listeners) right now, to see if its stuffy image and supposedly high-brow snootiness is still alive and kicking.  Moreover, with tongue firmly in cheek, the book heartily applauds some of the wide-ranging and quite remarkable things that are happening to classical music today – in city streets, in the cinema, on hand-held technological gadgets, in medical amphitheatres, on the telephone, and even in the more traditional venue of the concert hall. How to hear classical music offers an insight into a new culture of classical music, a chance to ponder afresh its values, meanings and functions, and to re-envisage what this music can do for us, make us think, believe, feel" - Davinia Caddy.

'I must congratulate Davinia Caddy for talking about classical music in such a lucid, open-minded and entertaining way. To be honest, I found her essay quite awakening. It is a clear and sincere account, with witty observations, a wide sociocultural framework, and amusing bits that make for really enjoyable reading.'
– Yan Pascal Tortelier

'Employing a lively narrative style, Caddy takes readers on a journey... She sure knows how to inform entertainingly.'
– Ian Williams, Otago Daily Times

'Davinia Caddy manages to fit into a mere 145 pages a vast amount of information designed to simulate the curiosity of anyone who claims even a casual interest in music... How to Hear Classical Music is a very readable book for anyone, of any musical interest.'
– David Sell, Weekend Press

'I found it a fascinating journey through the development of classical music, which certainly makes the reader want to explore further and hear music differently.'
– Susan Esterman, Bookseller Blog

Related: Davinia Caddy on Saturday Morning with Kim Hill