Classical Tyro

A Beginner's Guide to Great Music

About This Website

My name is Jim Smith, and I consider myself an apostle of great music. Whether I’m walking, driving, reading, writing, or doing yard work, I’m probably listening to music. From Antonio Vivaldi to Miles Davis, from the Beatles to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, I’ll listen to nearly anything, and I enjoy most everything I hear.

I studied music as an undergraduate, but that was a long time ago, and I am no longer a musician. Having left the practice room behind, I’ve become a dedicated and devoted consumer of great music. I’m no longer the musician on stage. I’m now the guy sitting in the audience or creating playlists for my iPod.

And I’m the best audience member a musician would ever want because I find such great joy in hearing what musicians create. Some people golf, fish, or collect stamps. I spend my time searching for the next piece of music that will make me want to dance, smile, or shed a tear — the piece of music that will make me believe everything is right with the world.

I’ve spent over two decades teaching music history to high school students in humanities classes and adults in community education and lifelong learning programs. Something I’ve learned teaching my students — even the ones who claim they are "tone deaf" — is that getting them to like classical music is not difficult. Once they know a little about the elements of music and can place a piece of music in historical context, they usually become classical music enthusiasts. As the conductor Benjamin Zander said, "Everyone likes classical music, they just don't know it yet.”

And that is the mission of this website — to help more people realize how much they would enjoy classical music if they simply gave it a chance. Understanding classical music might take a little more time and effort than understanding a three-minute pop song, but the rewards are worth it. At its best, classical music has the ability to purify your soul, calm your mind, and bring unbridled joy into your life.

I created this website as a labor of love and invite you to visit it often to discover the tremendous pleasure that comes from listening to classical music. Rather than advising you to stop and smell the roses, I’ll recommend that you stop and listen to the music. I am certain that you will enjoy the experience.

MOOC Resized

James L. Smith is a writer and publisher who has 30 years experience as a history teacher and 18 years as an education consultant. Jim has made presentations to teachers throughout the United States, as well as in Europe and Asia, leading workshops and institutes designed to help students develop analytical thinking and writing skills. Jim has also made presentations on the general art of teaching and advanced topics in U.S. history. As a consultant for the College Board Jim has worked with over 2775 teachers on behalf of the Advanced Placement Program. In 2014 he taught a MOOC for Rice University titled "The Art of Teach History" that reached over 6700 teachers in 148 nations. During the time that Jim is not consulting or writing, he enjoys teaching community education classes on music history, as well as a variety of other topics.

Jim is the author of an American history textbook titled Ideas That Shape A Nation, a book that has been endorsed by teachers and scholars throughout the nation, including two Pulitzer Prize-winning historians (David Kennedy and Jack Rakove). In 2013, his novel Catherine’s Son was named a finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award as best historical fiction. Jim is also the author of Skipper Hall: The Life and Religious Philosophy of a Methodist Minister in New Mexico. Jim has published articles and book reviews in Healthy U, The Journal of Southern History, Phi Delta Kappan, AP Central, and Historical Times.

Jim has been a recipient of the James Madison Fellowship, the Christa McAuliffe Fellowship, and a two-time recipient of the William Robertson Coe Fellowship. He has a bachelor’s degree in secondary education (history and music) and two master’s degrees (history and government). The Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History has recognized Jim as the U.S. History Teacher of the Year. He has also been recognized as the New Mexico Teacher of the Year and a finalist for the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

Purchase Jim’s books on Amazon