For the last few weeks, I've been doing something that I've never done before: Going through and actually listening to my "record" (actually both LPs and CDs) collection, playing everything from start to finish. Like, perhaps, many of you, I have all kinds of recordings, from all kinds of sources, that I've acquired over the years in any number of ways: Most were simply bought, of course, bur some were birthday or Christmas gifts; some were leftover demo copies from one audio show or another; some were sent to me by people who wanted to show off their work or to share their favorites; and still others seem, somehow, to have just mysteriously appeared in my collection, and I find myself wondering where, why, and how I got them.
Whatever their provenance, I'm finding three things:
1) I have a whole lot of records that I've either never heard before or that I've never heard all the way through.
2) Even if I've heard them, for many, it's been many years since the last time I played them.
3) my marking system (which I'm really quite pleased with, and will tell you about in a moment) was not applied consistently in the past, so I still have a lot of recordings that are not marked at all.
Many of the recordings that I have are duplicate or multiple performances of the very same thing: I have, for example eleven recordings of the Shostakovich Symphony #15, twenty-one recordings of the Vivaldi Four Seasons, and nine recordings of the Enesco Roumanian Rhapsody #1, just to name a few. This all started with the Beethoven Symphony #6 (the "Pastoral"), which – like, I would imagine, many of us – I heard for the first time as a child, as part of the classic Disney film Fantasia. Later, when I started buying my own music to play on my own system (A "Silvertone" combination radio/record player) I bought a recording of it (the Pierre Monteux); discovered that it sounded different from the Disney/Stokowsky version, even though both were playing the same notes, and, with my interest piqued, I bought more recordings by more conductors leading more orchestras, and kept doing so until now I have many (although how many may remain a mystery until I've finished going through my entire library.)
With other things; sometimes I would hear some new bit of music or a performance of something more familiar that "turned me on" and I would trundle (back in the days when they were still around) off to Tower Records to try to find it. Or, in more modern times, I might click on Amazon to do the same thing.
Sometimes I would find what I wanted; sometimes not. And, whether I was flipping through the record bins in person at Tower, or just poring over the listings in Amazon, sometimes I would find something that was interesting that I hadn't been looking for, and I would buy that, too.
And that's where things started to get interesting: Whether I had bought it personally, gotten it as a present or from some Show; or whatever, I found that once I had a new recording at home and had played it, either it (or some part of it) would become an instant favorite and be played over and over until something came along to replace it, or, as happened just recently with a recording of the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto #2 that I had heard on the radio and immediately ordered, when it arrived (from Amazon), I played parts of it once, decided that I was unimpressed and could wait until later to hear the rest of it, and set it aside, possibly never to be played again. That's how so many un-played or partially-played recordings wound-up in my collection and how – when I had either never heard them or never heard them all the way through – my record classifying system had fallen either into disuse or at least far behind.
Here's how that system is supposed to work: As both a music lover and an audiophile, I have found that two things are important to me: First, I care how good the music is – both in terms of the music (the composition), itself and in how well it's performed, and, second (but not by much) I care how good the sound is – both of the recording and of the venue it was recorded in.
That led me to a three-part classification system, with one part each devoted to the music; the performance; and the sound. To implement it, I used three different colors of tape: Yellow (or Gold); Orange; and Blue, and declared that they would indicate: Excellent (Yellow or Gold); Good (Orange); and Average to poor (Blue). To mark a record or CD, I would, after listening to it completely, mark the spine of its cover or jewel-box with three small strips of tape: The top one would indicate the quality of the music, within its genre, so that "excellent", "good", or "average" for a Country & Western album (for example) would always mean "in comparison to other Country &Western albums", and not as compared to classical, pop, jazz, or movie music (just to name some of the possible categories) albums. The one just below that (the "middle" one) would indicate the quality of the performance (How THIS "Beethoven 6" compares to that one, again always sticking firmly within the same genre. The third (the "bottom") piece of tape indicated the quality of the sound, not, though, within any single genre this time, but as compared to all other recordings of any kind.
To illustrate how my system works in "action", let's consider that I have a recording of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. That's an undoubted classic – one of Mozart's best – so I'll award it a Yellow or gold stripe in the first position on the spine of the album. If the performance of it is good, but less than stellar, I might give it an Orange in the middle position and if the sound is only average, the bottom stripe is going to be Blue. I can therefore look at the marked album at any time and see, from its Yellow-Orange-Blue (in that order, from top to bottom) stripes that it's great music, but neither the best performance nor the best sound and, if I want to listen to a little Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, I can either look for another recording of that same thing (hopefully a "Yellow-Yellow-Yellow") in my record library, or listen to it anyway, knowing that I'm going to like the music but not necessarily be "blown away" by either the performance or the sound.
That's where all those multiple recordings come in, and having them allows me to always pick the best one of what I have – the "winning" music, performance, or sound, as it were. It also allows me, when I go through the record library as I'm doing now, listening to everything, regardless of how it's marked, to hear again something that I might not have heard for a good long while and -- if my tastes have changed in the interim or if it was simply wrongly marked in the first place – I can choose to re-mark it, either "up" or "down" in any or all of my three categories and maybe find a new "winner".
The real winner, though, in all of this, is obviously me: Listening to everything is like discovering a whole new record collection or a record store that I had never before visited. It allows me to listen to things long-forgotten and to all those things that I had never marked, either because I had never played them; never played them all the way through; or simply never got around to marking them. FUN!
It's a whole new opportunity and a good excuse to put on a recording, sit back, close my eyes, and...
Enjoy the music.