Many years ago Robin and I were attending a concert by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. After the concert I remember him commenting on how beautiful the oboe part was in the second movement and the way it blended with the other woodwind instruments. I didn’t notice what he was referring to because my focus was only on the technical expertise of the double bass section, instead of simply enjoying what I was hearing!
We were both hearing the music but listening for different things. It is a bit like the times when we are guilty of selective listening to a conversation with someone, hearing the words but not really listening to their heart.
Maybe it is the beat that gives a sense of get up and go in the morning. Maybe you like it because it makes you feel happy or stirs other emotions. Maybe it is the tone quality of a certain instrument, or how well the instruments blend together.
Maybe it is a singer you enjoy and you hardly notice the instruments. It may be that the words of the song touch your heart and the music enhances the message. Or perhaps the talent of the musicians impress you. It could be that your children are doing their practice and you are helping them get it right.
Maybe you simply like the overall sound of the piece without really knowing why it makes you feel a certain way. Perhaps you just need some sound in the background. Here’s an interesting one: maybe the music reminds you of a particular time in your life, a time which raises particular emotions because of the association of the time you first heard it.
If you are a musician, have you noticed that when you are learning to play a given piece on a musical instrument, the enjoyment of listening can be usurped by the process of working to get it to sound right? There has to come a time when you have it sorted and you can sit back and simply enjoy what you have learned before charging on to learn the next piece.
Listening to someone else playing well the piece you are learning can be an important part of inspiring you to keep learning it too. The main thing I appreciate about the Suzuki method of teaching is the huge focus on really listening to the music. I’ve observed that those who do this well instinctively play with lovely expression. From repeated listening to the same piece the listener simply absorbs how to play it beautifully.
I’ve learned that in order to play a stringed instrument well you have to give special attention to listening – I mean really listening – to be sure the pitch is accurate. Once that is sorted you can start to focus on the tone quality. The position and pressure of the bow, along with varied vibrato can change the sound significantly. Other instruments achieve these qualities in ways particular to them.
As I was pondering all this I felt challenged to ‘stop and smell the roses’ as it were and have a listen to some music I like without my music teacher hat on (when I use a different kind of listening). Often I would rather play music myself than listen to recorded music. But there is so much to be learned by chilling for a while, really listening to someone else’s presentation of music and absorbing it for simple pleasure in the beauty of sound.
Besides anything else, it’s a life skill to learn to listen.
If you would like some music to chill to, here is a simple improvisation I did on piano based on the theme song from our musical “Father’s Heart”. For those who are familiar with this musical you will recognise the main melody coming in around the 4 minute mark. Hope you enjoy it!