Exactly the way it happened folks: A small piece of education, at the hands of a customer

Howard Popeck writes as follows: It’s with considerable embarrassment that I recall both my musical ignorance and my inverse snobbery about musical styles. Styles that I neither understood nor wanted to understand, for no good reason at all in the early days of Subjective Audio. I call those days my irrational time. They’ve been a recurring event since then.

I could tell a good sound, of course, but that was due in the early days at least, to an intimacy with the equipment and its capabilities rather than an inherent understanding of the musical processes struggling to escape undamaged from the various components.Anyway, one Saturday morning, I had a small but for me deeply significant life-changing experience, courtesy of one of my customers.

Saturday after Saturday this wise old gentle man, now deceased, turned up to listen to things of interest and to satisfy his curiosity. To share tea and biscuits, discuss various philosophies, and occasional to buy something. Working from home, it was pretty much a relaxed environment, one which we never entirely replicated in our shop. My customer observed that whenever I put on one of his opera records, I then went out to make the tea. Another opera record, and I seized the opportunity to replenish the biscuit supply. You get the idea.

Finally, one day he asked me why I didn’t stay in to listen. I replied in some immature crass way something to the effect of ‘it’s just big women wearing horned helmets belting out something indecipherable in a language I don’t understand and care even less about.” He gently suggested I take the record off, sit down, have a biscuit and then to "shut up for a moment". He asked me how I reacted to the blackbirds singing in my garden.

I replied truthfully that I responded "deeply, happily, joyfully and gratefully".

He then, back-footing me, asked if I knew "what the f..k were they were singing about?" In all my time with him it was the only time he swore. Amazed by both this and the perceptive wisdom that supported the question I responded that I hadn’t the first clue. I just loved the sound for what it was, not what it did or didn’t mean.

From that day on, I’ve never viewed opera in that ignorant way again. It doesn’t mean I like it, but I acknowledge then as I do now the depth of musical ignorance I share with so many others and how I have to continually remain on the look out for my own preconceptions.