A while ago I blogged about poetry and how understanding the concrete concepts expressed in a poem is one of the first steps in appreciating the abstract aspects of that poem, at least for me. I think that principle can actually be applied to most art forms.
Today I went to the Burning Bridges violin recital. I think music is necessarily fairly abstract - particularly instrumental music. Most of the music I couldn't immediately appreciate abstractly, although that's likely because I'm rather inexpert.
What I could do, though, was to concrete-ise the music. Since I was very small, I've listened to music by imagining the visuals that might accompany it and, increasingly as I've grown older, the story that it tells. I doubt that the story I imagine is always or even often what the composer had in mind, but it gives me a starting point from which to enjoy the music.
Even when I've lost track of my story, I'm caught up in the music. I think this is even easier in a live performance, because the performers themselves are telling a story; providing a concrete connection to the music.
I don't think I'm demeaning the music by bringing it to a level that I can began to understand, if I'm not changing the music itself. I think, in fact, that I elevate what the music is for me, since by looking at it differently I can appreciate it in some way and begin to appreciate it truly abstractly. I also think that even if I'm listening to it the wrong way now, but I keep listening, I'll eventually learn to listen to it the right way. So it's better to listen wrong than not to listen at all.