The value of a note being set and equalized allows every instrument of a given type to play the same note, and every instrument of any type to play the same general frequency such that when an "A" is written, it can be reproduced by any musician as intended. So too the setting of a written system of music provides for its communication and dissemination across cultures and eras. Likewise music theory provides an understanding of the mechanics of the art and its appreciation, much as the physical sciences and philosophy provide an understanding and appreciation of our reality.
Even without an understanding of the mechanics of music, one expresses oneself according to the language he or she is familiar, and therefore is subject to repeating the same language of generations before, just as one is subject to the effects of gravity whether or not the mechanics of gravity are understood. Rather than dismiss its history or utility, the study and understanding of a language allows one to command its expressive means to its fullest potential, and ultimately to transcend any perceived limits.
William Shakespeare did not dismiss the English language as obsolete, finite, exhausted, rigid or incapable of unfettered expression. He did not seek to replace, reinvent or terminate it. Shakespeare embraced his language, and by doing so he embraced the idea and history of language itself. He learned it, studied it, understood it, repeated it, mastered it...and in so doing, he expanded and transcended it, shaping the words to say more than the words themselves.
"Classical music" is a generic term often used to describe music which is "like something classic" in the sense of a past era or style, or according to a particular high ideal. However, the term "Classical" is more specifically a particular period in art history such as Baroque, Impressionism or Cubism. Such music is also sometimes referred to as "art music", in which the quality of composition is not merely in its subjective expression, but also its exhibition and exploration of musical structure, technique, and/or theoretical concern as distinct from "popular" or "folk" music which tend not to carry such musical concerns, though the term "art music" is itself ambiguous and subjective. Therefore a clearer and more accurate term or phrase would be "music in the classic tradition".
Music in the classic tradition encompasses the body of music history and thought. It is the art and study of the "means" of music, akin to the art and study of writing or painting, math and science...even the history and rules of a sport, or a game such as chess. As "popular" and "folk" music are subsets of the language of music, they too can be examined in the context of music in the classic tradition, though they tend to employ a smaller set of musical tools and therefore an examination of the classic tradition itself offers a more complete palette of "means" to express and compare, and in which to later address "popular" and "folk" music in the context of music as a whole. Even "popular" or "folk" music could benefit from an increased musical vocabulary through an appreciation of classic tradition, adding to their palettes for musical expression.
Music in the classic tradition has a rich variety of forms, rhythms, meters, harmony, counterpoint, style, technique, instrumentation, orchestration, development, dynamics, frequencies, and abstract thought. These topics will be illuminated through the series of articles to follow.