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Daniel Broniatowski

Learning how to Listen

December 27, 2012 at 3:31 AM

I recently finished reading two literary pieces that inspired me. One is Eric Jensen's "Music With the Brain in Mind" and the other is cellist Marcia Peck's article "Why Classical Music", which is featured on the website of the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra.

After reading both articles, it suddenly occurred to me that there is a very necessary but neglected skill that classical musicians possess which many in our society sadly
lack. This skill is the ability to listen which, in my opinion, is the most important step necessary to cultivate the ability to understand.

What do I mean by this? As musicians, we are acutely aware of the necessity of hearing the multiple layers of a piece of music that constitutes the whole. This is the main prerequisite for interpretation. The layers I speak of can be voices in a Bach Partita or multiple instruments in a large symphonic work. There are also layers of color (timbre) and rhythm, to name a few.

The beauty in all of this is that a well-written piece of music can be understood on multiple levels by all kinds of people. In effect, a good classical composer is communicating with humanity in such a way that ANY listener of cultural, social, or economic background can understand the message being imparted.

How does this apply to the average person and what is the implication for music education? Children are often unable to focus in school. Some (maybe most?!) daydream on occasion. Aside from the fact that these are often normal behaviors up to a point, and, notwithstanding the fact that boring teachers DO exist, there are slews of children who simply do not have the skills necessary to listen.

Now, listen to me carefully! Once one listens, rather than hears, one can understand what the teacher is saying. Oh - And one more thing! There are also phenomenal implications for cross-cultural understanding because of this enhanced ability to listen. When one truly can listen to the point of being able to understand the core of one's convictions, this results in respect for the other person. The same applies to those who debate sensitive issues in society at large.

As a violin teacher, I approach my lessons with this philosophy in mind. To me, the above reasons are certainly a great rationale for supporting music appreciation in schools.

I'd love to hear what you think!


From Royce Faina
Posted on December 28, 2012 at 2:06 AM
Greetings Daniel,
I am not in the arena of teaching per se' (a retired Nurse and working as a University Custodian presently). After reading and thinking on your post I cannot help but think there is a correlation with this blog and the one recently put up by Emily Hogstad. I think the problem is people today not realizing the value of the classical arts in period. Young people 'are' listening to music... and people respond to what reaches their heart & soul. Unless people (regardless of age) understands exactly "WHAT" they are seeing/hearing regardless of what it maybe they will casually brush it off. What I was taught is, "How do you know where you ought to go if you know not where you are at and how can you know where you are at if you cannot recall where you were/have been? Know where I am coming from?" History (the past) can serve as an anchor to center us with a stable platform now (remember that it is said that, 'hindsight is 20/20') so that we can make more concrete plans to where we should go. For the optimum evolution of the self is so that the individual can contribute to the optimum evolution to the greater whole (the needs of the many must meet the needs of the one so that the needs of the one can meet the needs of the many). In a nut shell the tree must appreciate and nurture its roots or the tree at present along with its future will die. If current trends continue and we lose sight of our classics (roots) we will be facing a serious malignant destiny! At present our progeny MUST see the BIG picture and that there is more than just the "now"! To get people to listen their heart must be reached by way of their realization of the critical importance of what it is they must listen too.
From elise stanley
Posted on December 28, 2012 at 3:19 AM
Nice blog. Interesting that there can be a big difference between someone who 'listens' and someone who is a 'listener'. As you point out it must be hard to be an effective musician unless you know how to listen and hear the detail and message of the music. But a 'listener' is someone with a capacity beyond being able to listen - its where the act of listening is an end in itself. I know a few people who fall into this catagory - they seem to take themselves out of the auditory experience - they 'see' the whole music and not just that part that pertains to their own interest.

I spell all that out because I think a lot of musicians (and I have to admit being one of them) may be good at listening but are really not listeners in the above sense. Of course the latter are the dream audience - and hopefully also include every critic.....

From Royce Faina
Posted on December 28, 2012 at 4:07 AM
Most people do and are both... they listen and are listeners. What is interesting is when they choose to be one or the other and 'why'. Also the point at when 'listen' & 'hear' are roughly exchanged as one and the same. Let's say some one hears something in passing, decides to give what they heard more attention (listening too). It is during this period (perhaps repeated sessions of attentiveness) that they decide to become a listener or cease their attentions too it. How... if what is to be listened to is of utmost importance, is the point conveyed to get them into the ‘listening mode?'
From Christopher Panzner
Posted on January 2, 2013 at 6:47 PM
My 80 year old father listens better than I can and probably ever will be capable of doing. He was a saxophone player and developed his listening skills early. I can't play an instrument and can't read notes. I wish I could but I never took the time to develop that skill. He will go to concert or a movie, Les Miserable, and he can tell when the performer missed a note.

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