While posters of Matchbox 20 and the Spice Girls assault the eyes of those who enter most music stores, some of the most avid CD buyers head straight to the back - to the classical section.
Classical music collectors comprise a small but passionate segment of the record-buying population, but for many it's a lifetime pursuit.Composer and conductor James Prigmore vividly remembers his introduction to classical music: "In the fifth grade there was a girl, Jane Wilson, who brought her recording of excerpts from `The Nutcracker' to class and played it for show-and-tell.
"I thought this was the most fantastic experience I'd ever had in my life, and I immediately had to have one of my own."
After working to earn 98 cents, Prigmore was able to buy the 45-rpm record. Other recordings followed, until he had amassed quite a collection of LP's and 45's. "In the early days, the most important thing for me was cheap, because at age 12 I didn't have very much money. So I invested in a huge number of recordings that were on a budget label that RCA-Victor had called `Camden.' "
Camden, N.J., was the city in which RCA-Victor had its major pressing plant. On the Camden label, an LP could be purchased for $1.98, when the average major-label price was $6.95. It was an inexpenive way to begin a classical music collection. And many years later, Prigmore discovered the true value of the Camden LP's.
"The Camden label was really re-issues of earlier recordings by great, great artists," said Prigmore."But because of contractual reasons, their names could not be listed on the covers.
"And so they developed a whole series of code names. For example, the `Star Symphony Orchestra' was the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Stokowski. The Boston Symphony Orcestra conducted by Koussevitzky was the `Centennial Symphony Orchestra.' These were the noms de plume on the Camden label."
With about 4,000 CDs in his collection, Prigmore claims there's not much of substance he doesn't have. However, he doesn't have a list of recommended collection starters. "My advice to beginning collectors is to forget about what the experts tell you you ought to be listening to, and listen to whatever you want to listen to."
One of the "experts," KUER classical disc jockey Gene Pack, also has a growing collection of CDs and LPs numbering in the thousands.
"It's a bug, I think, collecting," said Pack. "It's something you get caught by. You keep thinking you're going to assemble the perfect collection and you never do, but it's a lot of fun trying."
His first classical recording was a 78 of Debussy's "Clarinet Rhapsody," played by Benny Goodman."I was really into jazz when I was young, and a big Benny Goodman fan," said Pack. Another early classical purchase was the Bach double violin concerto, featuring Jascha Heifetz on both violin parts through overdubbing.
A few years and several hundred records later, Pack has made a career of classical music enthusiasm. His long list of recommended "must haves" includes music from every era. Bach Double Violin and Brandenburg Concertos, Mozart Symphony No. 40, the Beethoven Symphonies and 5th piano concerto, Schubert Quintet in C minor, Prokofiev Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5 just scratch the surface.
Pack also recommends listening to classical music on the radio and calling the station to get the record numbers of selections you like. KBYU FM (89.1) plays classical music virtually all the time, and KUER (90.1) has classical programs Mon.- Fri., 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. When shopping in stores, Pack recommends listening before you buy.
Of course, the small classical selection in most local record stores doesn't reflect the vast number of classical CDs released each year. "There are a lot of (classical) CDs coming out, probably too many," said Pack.
Pack recommends several catalogs and lists to find out what's out there. Gramophone is a British magazine devoted entirely to new classical CDs, with features and interviews with up-and-coming recording artists. Pack also subscribes to a list called "Records International," to which anyone can subscribe by writing to P.O. Box 343, Ridgewater, Conn. 06752.
Pack once shopped regularly at Discriminator Music, a locally owned classical record shop owned by Bill Goldsmith. But the store's selective clientele diminished until Discriminator was forced to close, kicking and screaming, in 1996.
However, Goldsmith recently resurrected his business, which he now calls "Discriminator Lives." Calling himself a "music consultant," Goldsmith works out of his home.
Goldsmith's training is as a psychologist, not a musician. His knowledge of music comes from listening and reading, and he can guide customers toward something they'd like. His ear is more tuned to the essence of pieces than the technical aspects, and he's familiar with even the more obscure works.
Immediately before talking to the Deseret News, Goldsmith was listening to Donizetti's obscure opera "La Favorita." "Donizetti wrote over 60 operas. And we usually only listen to one, `Lucia.' There are half a dozen others that are done occasionally like `Don Pasquale' and `Daughter of the Regiment,' but most real opera buffs don't know any Donizetti past about 10 operas. What about the other 50? The world of music is extraordinarily broad."
For this reason, Goldsmith provides new collectors with an alphabetical list of more than 200 "suggestions for a basic classical collection." That list, compiled by Gramophone magazine, includes Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart, as well as lesser known composers like Respighi, Satie, Dukas, and Tippet.
Goldsmith also recommends that beginning collectors start with a book on composers or music. "I guess I'm a literary person, too. I think you should start with some inspiration. Even magazines aren't ideal because they're just reviewing new releases. Since the industry is in a state of depression, they're not making a lot of good CDs compared to what's already out there."