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Music has always been a significant–and wonderful!–part of my life. I’m very grateful to have grown up in music-oriented family and to have had the opportunities I did to study music.
Because of this background, I can offer you a few music terms that I frequently hear confused. Maybe you know these, maybe not. Check and see…
Symphony vs. Orchestra
Used correctly, these terms apply to different things. “Symphony” applies to the type of music being performed (for example, Beethoven wrote several “symphonies”), while “orchestra” applies to the instrumentalists performing the music. My local orchestra is called the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra; the name implies an orchestra that plays symphonies.
Opera vs. Light Opera
“Opera” refers to the formal, entirely-sung drama which many of us (not incorrectly) associate with Viking wigs and glass-shattering voices of high vibrato.
“Light opera” characterizes the more accessible and entertaining musicals such as Gilbert & Sullivan works and Broadways; these combine song and dance with regular speaking and acting. To use another local organization as an example, the Charleston Light Opera Guild performs works such as Fiddler on the Roof, Grease, and Les Misérables.
Classical music vs. Classical period music
In general use and casual conversation, the term “classical music” refers to art music, often written for and performed by orchestras, that follows the Western tradition in its use of written notation, composition form, technical complexity, and other aspects.
But those immersed in the general world of “classical music” sometimes reserve that term for pieces specifically from the Classical Period of music (1730 to 1820), which came between the Baroque and Romantic periods and is identified with great composers such as Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven (who was actually transitional between the Classical and Romantic periods).
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