The Art of Listening
Neophyte listeners of classical music tell us they often experience a sense of bewilderment over what they should be listening for in serious art music. Let’s look at some ways to begin to approach this most elusive of the performance arts.
In an earlier blog post, “Live Performance,” I explained a bit about my artistic process in learning a new piece of music. First off, you need to understand that music is not contained in a printed score. Music is made in a moment, in a place; an island in time and space.
As musicians, Paul and I are deeply honored by your presence in our concert hall. This tells us that you’ve decided to trust us to guide you on a journey of sorts. It’s a big responsibility. For the most part, you don’t know where this journey may lead. You may not even understand why you suddenly find yourself embarking on such a journey. It’s our mission to join with you as together we transcend the mundane. The starting point of this journey will be the bare-bones communication of a printed score through which the composer has attempted to capture certain intangibles of human experience.
Some pieces are “about” something; they have a theme that offers an entry point for the listener. Some don’t supply such a sign post. Either way, we, as artists, and you, as listeners, each bring our own experiences and our own selves into the music, together creating something altogether new each time.
The art of listening can be distilled down to the simplicity of this: openness. Regardless of my and Paul’s detailed knowledge of the musical score in front of us, we each revel in having a new experience of the music with every performance. We never know quite what to expect from the music, and here’s the key: Neither should you.
That bears repeating. Just as in life, in classical music, we should never know what to expect. We human beings are in a constant state of flux. We find ourselves in varying degrees of harmony or disharmony with the world around us. Who we are and how we are, in any given moment, is going to inform how we experience the music we are hearing. Focused, attentive listening, without expectation, offers a unique opportunity for us to become, for just 90 minutes in the concert hall, a real human being instead of a human doing. When it comes right down to it, listening and experiencing live classical music in the gestalt of time and space binds us together as a community, and enhances our common human experience. It’s sort of like meditating in a group.
We urge you to become a listening artist! Bring your ears to the concert hall, and open your mind and heart to partake in the nourishment of your whole self. Permit the sound to suffuse your soul to its deepest levels. Simply put, there’s no right or wrong of ‘what or how’ when we speak of listening to classical music. At the core of it, there’s only our common experience as human beings. Bring yourself to the conversation. It’s a three-way; between the composer, the artists, and the listener. We need you to make this special thing we call music. After all, if great music is performed by passionate artists, but no one is there to hear it, has any music been made at all?