Wouldn't different people have different interpretations to a particular piece of music, given the almost abstract quality of sounds?
A deceptively simple and innocent question posed to me by a friend who is relatively foreign to the classical music scene.
I guess the presence of an almost infinite possible interpretations within the stylistic guidelines is one most charming and mysterious quality in music. The music exists in a sublime and abstract state until it is subjected to the process of interpretation by a performer or listener, when in that most special moment it crystallises to become something truly personal. I wouldn't deny the fact that the music was created with a main intention of music in mind, and how close others can reach in their interpretations would depend on their level of aural sensitivity and musical knowledge, but to insist that every one, trained or untrained, has to come to that similar interpretation of the composer would make an extreme elitist out of me. I've often restrained myself (unsuccessfully sometimes) in saying statements like "listen the church bells in this part of the music" or "pick out the fighting sounds in the orchestra!", which results in people mentally forming the effects of the music which are mine and matching them to the music. Such statements do make them appreciate the music better in terms of the surface materialisation of the sounds but deprive them of a chance to interpret the music or sounds in their own way through the more intricate music processes.
Approaching classical music is certainly no easy task. Music composed in the different periods are written with particular intentions to people with different expectations and tastes. One certainly can't seek to unify the process of music appreciation for different periods into one which can be readily applied throughout the entire timeline of classical music. Baroque music, created with didactic intentions, often requires a more spiritual and pedantic approach, while romantic music desires a listener willing to be moved emotionally. Baroque, classical and romantic music wouldn't pose much problems for the average listener who expects something meaningful or expressive.
How does one approach avant garde music then? The fact that such music is often unfairly dismissed as musical kitsch only shows how retrograde the listening tastes and approach of consumers of this artistic form are. Such works, created in the light of overwhelming information and knowledge in modern times, contains profound universal truths (in their themes), which wouldn't be uncovered by passive listeners who expects to be moved in the traditional way. The music demands listeners to be actively involved with the musical processes at work by stepping into the abstract world of sounds and rhythms, instead of waiting for something to hit them while they're not prepared to be involved musically. People in the modern society, too often caught up in the wild pursuit of fame and money, turn to music in search of a resting point, expecting a replenishment of the soul before sidelining the arts again for their materialistic pursuit of worldly targets. Avant garde music seeks to rebel against this phenomenom, not by creating random and repulsive noise created in the name of modern art, but by hiding what the human race is looking for in a musical form which is not accessible to those who are unwilling to put in their part to uncover what music has to give. Ingenious. And if one manages to cross this barrier and pick out that gem of truth intentioned by the composer, from personal experience, I can assure that the experience is no less satisfying than listening to a pre-modernism work.
Serious music aside, recently, I've been attracted by the rich culture of Latin America through their music. I have yet to be able to tell apart the more intricate forms of Latin music. Thankfully, a Christian acquaintance and musician in Brazil offered to clarify my doubts about the forms of music they have over there, at the same time mailing over several records of the music at his own expense. It's amazing how rich and powerful the music is. Such music which is created and played at a more common level sure provides a refreshing change from the serious music created for the classical community. Such culturally rich music, like flamenco in Spain, invites the listener into the heartland of the culture and is simply, the voice of the masses and natives. I never fail to be amazed by how easily digestible the music is by people on the opposite end on Earth despite me never stepping into the that continent before.
Maybe such are the music which have a lasting and genuine quality without much drastic changes over the sands of time...