Santa Maria Sun / Humor
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 15
The art of listeningMusic is truly appreciated by those who know how to listen to it
BY JOE PAYNE
Even people without the slightest musical ability can enjoy a deep and rewarding relationship with the art. Rarely is it mentioned that the ability to listen to music properly is of paramount importance—not to say that there are fundamental rules when listening to music and that most people are wrong. There is truly only one wrong way to listen to music, and that is with your fingers in your ears. But being more aware of what you’re listening to opens up amazing worlds of understanding and enjoyment.
In our high-tech consumer society, music has been co-opted to serve a million different functions. Advertisers use it to portray their product in a certain light, people holding on a telephone call may be treated to some free music to ward of impatience, and department stores play unobtrusive “easy listening” music to relax customers.
Music has been pushed into the background. It has become secondary. Many people (myself included) have some kind of mp3 player or iPod that can hold hundreds to thousands of hours of music to be played on demand in any place. Only a hundred years ago, this kind of musical saturation was unthinkable.
Let’s go back to the time of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) two centuries ago. He’s one of western history’s most recognized and celebrated composers. He dedicated his life to creating music, from solo piano sonatas to orchestral symphonies, even after he went completely deaf. In his time, a true music lover may only have had the chance to hear a Beethoven symphony once or twice a year, and usually the only people who could afford to organize such an event were the upper class and nobility.
Music meant more then because it was scarce. Beethoven’s last symphony is an hour and 10 minutes of uninterrupted music that took weeks to compose, rehearse, and organize. And the only way of recording this music was with ink and paper! Today, I carry all of Beethoven’s symphonies with me in my pocket, along with many works by Bach, Chopin, and every album by The Beatles. Has the over-availability of music cheapened the art and our ability to enjoy it? Only if we let it, I believe.
The first thing to do when truly listening to music is to empty your mind. It’s a good exercise to employ any time, but especially when enjoying any kind of art. Next, be aware of what you’re going listen to and the setting in which you’re hearing it. Are you sitting in a dive bar about to hear a classic rock cover band or in a concert hall about to hear an orchestra perform a symphony dating back several hundred years? All music is a reflection of the time and place in which it was created, so being aware of not just your setting but the setting the music was created in is helpful.
Next, the title is very important. Beethoven’s sixth symphony is titled the “Pastoral Symphony,” and each movement is given a title relating to an afternoon spent in the countryside. The music elicits thoughts and imagery of a babbling brook, a country dance, and even a thunderstorm! This is called program music, because the composer has given you instructions as to what the music is about. Many composers give you no instructions at all. Frederick Chopin is well known for never giving any of his works programmatic titles. “Prelude no. 1 in C major, Opus 28” is about as good as you’re going to get from composers like him. In this case, the composer is actually giving creative control to you, the listener. This is why listening can be considered an art, because the more you listen, the better you get, and the more you get out of music. Purely instrumental music with no vocals is actually speaking to you, but it’s up to you to interpret what it’s saying.
As a music teacher and aspiring musical educator, I have found that one of the hardest things to teach a budding musician is how to listen. I teach all ages how to play piano, guitar, mandolin, and other instruments, but one thing I’ve noticed is that the majority of many kids’ musical exposure comes from corporate television or radio. Unfortunately, a few children’s shows that I have come across are conditioning kids to enjoy dance club music—which isn’t bad, but it is a tiny part of a wide spectrum of music, and it is important to expose kids to as many different kinds of music as possible. I still remember Rowlf of the Muppets playing Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on the piano.
Of course, it isn’t up to corporate outlets to educate kids about music; it is up to parents, most of all. And if you’re a parent who isn’t familiar with classical music, maybe now’s the time to explore it with your children. If you have a computer with Internet access, you can YouTube just about any classical performance. Or you can go the public library, which offers a wonderful selection of classical, popular, folk, and contemporary music on CD. And if classical music isn’t your thing, I’m sure there are many genres of more modern music you have yet to hear. Why not give it a try? The journey awaits all those with open ears.
Celebrate the solstice
A “Summer Solstice Celebration” concert
Music in the valley
The Lompoc Music Association presents its annual concert at La Purisima Mission, featuring the Lompoc Music Association’s annual Scholarship Competition winners Josh Mireles and Brea Carucci, the Central Coast Choral Artists directed by David Hensley, and soloist Susan McDonald on June 24 at 3 p.m., La Purisima Mission, Lompoc. More info: 735-4777.
The Maverick Saloon offers live entertainment, including country blues music by The Railways in concert June 22 at 8:45 p.m., followed by “Late Night with guest DJs” at 11:30 p.m. “Concert on the Deck” featuring Teresa Russell is June 23 at 3 p.m. The Railways perform June 23 at 8:45 p.m., followed by “Late Night with guest DJs” at the saloon, 3687 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez. More info: 686-4785 or email@example.com.
Contact Calendar Editor Joe Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org.