I’ve thought a lot about the art of listening over the years, and for this podcast, I wanted to lay down a guide of some sort. But, making a guide for listening? Do we even need such a thing? We can hear the music – isn’t that enough? Is hearing different from listening? Is the old argument, “I know what I like” a valid one?
Allow me to start this by recounting a personal story – one that’s had a huge influence on the way I listen today. I realize that we will all have our own story and our own way of looking at the world, but bear with me on this. Some years ago, while attending a new music conference, I had an epiphany – a big one. It changed how I hear music. But before I get to that, let me back up and ask a question to all you composers out there. Why do we compose? There’s tons of music out there already – tons of great, earth-shattering, mind-blowing, consciousness-altering, transcendent music out there already. Why bother?
I think, as composers, we’re just not hearing quite what we want to. We have ideas. We have philosophies. We have certain things that we are desperate to hear – so desperate in fact, that we will subject ourselves to weeks, months – hell, even years of self-doubting, solitary, exhausting work to create even the hope of hearing those sounds. I’m no different – there are things I want to hear – I put them into my music – I think you do, too.
So, back to the new music conference. Here I was, sitting through concert after concert of new works – finding that I was not enjoying most of what I was hearing. Finding myself either rolling my eyes, or silently sighing because of having to sit through another one of these pieces. I think you know what I’m talking about. I think we’ve all been there.
However – something hit me at this conference that changed me. I was halfway through one of the concerts halfway through the conference when it hit me. I had been sitting there, throughout that whole conference, through all of those concerts, through all of those years – desperately trying to hear my voice in someone else’s music. And when I didn’t hear my voice? I was disappointed and lost interest.
When the epiphany came, I sat there thinking to myself, “How silly is this. How self-centered.” I felt like a fool.
From that point on, I promised myself that I was going to sit in every concert, and desperately try to hear their voice in their music. After this epiphany and this conscious decision, everything changed for me. I heard things in music that I had closed my mind to before. Wondrous things. Truly being able to discover another artists voice became a joy for me. Often, their music was far removed from my own, which only made the challenge, as well as the reward, greater.
When listening to this podcast – I humbly ask you to follow this maxim:
Don’t listen for your voice in someone else’s music.
Rarely, you will find a musical soulmate, but the majority of the time, you will be shutting out truly awe-inspiring music. Music that you can learn from. Music that you can be amazed by.
Desperately try to listen for their voice. You will be handsomely rewarded for it.