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iTunes Tune-up 3: Catering to the Classical, part 1

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

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Because classical music is catalogued in a fundamentally different way than virtually every other kind of music, it can be a real problem finding the classical work I want in iTunes. Think about finding things in a record store (remember those?). Everything's filed by artist, except for classical, which is filed primarily by composer. Fortunately, it's fairly easy to organize classical music in iTunes better than the default settings.

Step 1: Join tracks. Some folks are comfortable listening to just an individual movement of a string quartet, but I want to hear the work in its entirety – even in shuffle mode. When I put the CD into my computer and it shows up in iTunes, I highlight the tracks I want to import as a unit (such as all the movements of a concerto or dance suite). In the "Advanced" menu, I go to the option to "Join tracks." Once selected, a bracket appears in front of the track listing, denoting that they're now joined.

When I drag the joined tracks into iTunes, they appear as a single track with the total playing time for the entire work. And if one movement segues into another, that relationship's preserved – there's no audible gap.

Step 2: Rename the track title. Classical music recordings are normally filed by composer. Having just the title of the work in the "Name" field isn't very helpful when I have twelve tracks from different composers all labeled "Symphony."

To rename a work, highlight it and select "Get Info" from the File menu. This shows the text and graphic info for the track. Click the Info tab to reveal the title and artist fields. For "Name," I enter the composer's last name, then the name of the work.

For example:

Albinoni: Concerto No. 3, Op. 9 in F for 2 Oboes, Strings and Continuo

If I have two composers that share the same last name, such as Richard and Johann Strauss, I'll include the first initial as well like so:

Strauss, R.: Four Last Songs

This groups all my classical tracks together by composer. I can instantly see all my Beethoven tracks, all my Zemlinsky tracks, and so on.

Step 3: Reclaim the artist field. Some people use the artist field for the composer, but with the composer's last name in the title field, I find I can use this field for its original purpose. For me, the best way to organize the artist field is stick to a consistent way of entering the information. For large ensembles, I list ensemble first, then conductor, then any featured soloist.

For example:

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Jerzy Maksymiuk, conductor; Piers Lane, piano

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Osmo Vansk, conductor; Martin Roscoe, piano

One final note: when tracks are joined, all the information in the title field is duplicated, which means that when I import the work to iTunes, the title can look like this:

A. Scarlatti: Concerto Grosso No. 1 in F minor I. Grave - A. Scarlatti: Concerto Grosso No. 1 in F minor II. Allegro - A. Scarlatti: Concerto Grosso No. 1 in F minor III. Largo - A. Scarlatti: Concerto Grosso No. 1 in F minor IV. Allemande [Allegro]

It's a good idea to clean out the duplicated info. Most iPods can't handle that much text, and it can all blur together as the player scrolls the title. If I felt it was important to list the movements, I'd shorten it to something like this:

Scarlatti, A: Concerto Grosso No. 1 in F minor: I. Grave - II. Allegro - III. Largo - IV. Allemande [Allegro]

Otherwise, I'd just go with something like this:

Scarlatti, A: Concerto Grosso No. 1 in F minor

Being an unabashed classical music geek, I didn't stop there, though. In Catering to the Classical, part 2 I'll share some additional tips that helped me enjoy some extended classical listening sessions with my iPod.

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