Feb 26, 2016

Other Cheerleaders

Listen Better

Sometimes one can feel that one is a lone ‘voice crying in the wilderness’ – but that is seldom the case! Inevitably there are others who are also fixated on the issues that consume us.

I must thank Discovery Orchestra Trustee, pianist and published author, Tricia Tunstall for alerting me to a blog post by Anna Sutyagina, a Russian pianist and artistic director. Ms. Sutyagina posted an article in January entitled: ‘How do we listen to music?’


In her blog post she makes some interesting comments about her own experiences: “I never thought about listening. Being a musician myself, I spend much time listening: live performances, music on CDs, Internet, streaming and listening to my own playing. I always took it for granted until I had two unusual experiences in the concert hall that I would like to share with you. . .When the lights were being dimmed, I was feeling tired, but my joy of anticipating wonderful piano playing was immense! It was my first time hearing the maestro live! After the first bars, I knew that I was being occupied by my inner thoughts rather than listening!” (Emphasis mine) She also references American composer Elliot Schwartz, who, in 1982, published a book entitled Music: Ways of Listening.

And, after doing a little digging, I found this post by Maria Popova, a Bulgarian writer, blogger and critic now living in Brooklyn, who wrote in her blog, Brain Pickings, How to Listen to Music: A Vintage Guide to the 7 Essential Skills. Ms. Popova also references Elliot Schwartz’s 1982 book and was kind enough to list some of Mr. Schwartz’s ideas. I will paraphrase and condense a bit.

1 – Develop your sensitivity to music by trying to respond aesthetically to all sounds from the hum of the refrigerator. . .to the tones of the cello.

2- Develop a sense of time as it passes: duration, motion and placement of events within a time frame.

3 – Develop a musical memory. Try to recall musical patterns and relate new musical events to past ones.

4 – Acquire a musical vocabulary. (Abstract) music is a nonverbal art but we need special words to describe it.

5 – Develop musical concentration. Basically – learn to extend the length of your musical attention span from selections lasting only a few minutes to works like a half-hour Beethoven Symphony.

6 – Listen objectively. Concentrate on ‘what’s there’ and not what you hope or wish would be there. That is – be open-minded.

7 – Bring your life experience and knowledge å_to the listening process. It makes the listening experience that much more enjoyable.

These topics and others are in fact the subject matter of The Discovery Orchestra’s new 8-part public television series, Fall in Love with Music! Don’t miss an episode! Check your local listings, and if you live in New York/New Jersey metro area, tune to NJTV on Wednesday, March 30th at 8:30 pm for Episode One – Our Musical Focus. Hope you’ll join us then!