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School!



Over the decades, the way we listen to music has changed, and it’s interesting to wonder about the implications of those changes.


Prior to the age of artificial sound recording, all music was live, and this had a profound influence on the availability and type of music people could listen to. This meant that people were limited to their own voices, or instruments they could make or buy, or access to others who could make music. This vastly limited the type of music people could listen to, when they could listen, and how. Listening to a Beethoven symphony, for example, was only possible if you had access to an orchestra able to perform it, which generally meant that only the rich could hear this type of music.


But in the late 19th century, all of this changed. With the advent of sound recording, it became possible to record music in one place, then listen to it in another. #TIL that sound recording is generally broken into four main periods, from the acoustic, to the electrical, then to the magnetic, and finally the digital era. A fascinating rabbit-hole, based on the technology used to store the recording.

I was wondering more about the idea of how music is presented by an artist, and how it is consumed by a listener. Often, a song was independent of any other song, but sometimes a song would be part of a larger whole. An example of this would be a symphony, which was usually broken into four sections, and presented as parts of a whole.

Over the past half-century or so, most music has been presented as individual songs, in bite-sized chunks intended for radio play or other presentation. There were a number of reasons for this, but one was the way that an act created an album, or collection of songs, and then released a single intended for radio-play.

Now, many albums are simply collections of songs, and do not necessarily have an overriding theme, but some do. A concept album is defined as “an album whose tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually”. This is obviously rather vague, defines a spectrum, and falls at least partly within the category of “you know it when you see it”.

Albums that tell a story or have a shared identity are relatively easy to categorize. Albums like 2112 by Rush, and Kilroy Was Here by Styx tell clear stories, while Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Alan Parsons Project is based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

But what about albums like Toxicity, by System of a Down? While the album is excellent, and clearly has a number of themes to it (such as drug addiction and police brutality), I would not describe it as a concept album as the themes are not really tied together with an overriding theme. (I’m sure that many would disagree, but that’s kind of the point – the idea of a concept album is very subjective)

In any case, how did my wandering mind get here in the first place? Well, I wanted to write about “lifelong learning”, which made me think about school, which led me to songs about school, and thus to the song “School” by Supertramp. I found a great review of the song, along with the video above, which “mashes” the song with a French film call “The 400 Blows” – I thought it was wonderful!

Listening to this song and looking up references to it is what got me thinking about whether Crime of the Century could be considered a concept album, and we come full circle. My introduction to Supertramp would have been their famous Logical Song, around 1980, which led me to buy the album Breakfast in America, and then later Crime of the Century, which is where I first heard “School”. Interestingly, I thought that School had never been released as a single, but it was – in 1983 – almost ten years after the album.

All of this comes back to the idea of learning for its own sake, and having wide interests. While I know people who are expert in relatively narrow fields, I seem to be a major generalist by nature, which is why I started this blog in the first place – I love the fact that it leads me down such interesting paths, and that it encourages me to keep learning.


But how do we learn? And how do we keep learning?

Reading, obviously, is a big part of it, as are podcasts and other media, but I highly recommend formal continuing education courses, and some types of industry certification.

While, generally, the best way to learn is by doing, this approach can also limit you. As I’ve mentioned before, I learned about data normalization informally, and didn’t even know what it was called. The value of more formal education is that the material is usually more comprehensive, and will include material that you might never encounter through self-study. I have learned an enormous amount through continuing education certificate programs, which are offered by many universities.

With regard to industry certifications, I think there’s at least some value in most of them, but the degree of benefit depends on the type of certification. There are many certifications which are specific to a technology, don’t always age will, and can sometimes distort a student’s understanding of underlying concepts due to how a specific product is structured. On the other hand, broadly-focused certifications will at least try to provide an overview of the field, and many also have a requirement for continuing education. Examples of this include the PMP (Project Management Professional) and the CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), and it’s obviously no coincidence that these are the certifications I have pursued.


Again, though, while formal education and certifications are helpful, the real key is to keep an interest in everything, and keep wanting to learn. If you have that, you will find a way.

Cheers!

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