To Listen

What does it mean to “listen?”

I’ve often held the belief, as a student, that anyone who finishes listening to a new piece of music for the first time and can rattle off a succession of analytical information did not truly listen to the piece in the first place; they let their mind get in the way. Though, I had to ask myself if I truly listened in a fashion that was any more sincere. The honest answer is “no,” and I feel that you would be hard pressed to find many students of music who have learned how to truly listen to a piece of music. At a recent recital I attended I noticed that it took only a couple minutes into a song before my mind had wandered completely away from the performance. This, unfortunately, illustrates how the vast majority of young Americans use music, as a backing track to whatever else they are doing. While music may sometimes appropriately function as such, it is important to look deeper into the true nature of listening.

The question of what it means to listen is very much based upon the question of what it means to “be open.” To listen is to open oneself. Openness is a state of being, and thus, is not part of any multitasking situation. It is the sole concentration of an individual at a certain time. There is no superficial support or activity inherent in “being open,” and so, this may suggest spiritualism, but let us simply say that it is meditative. For those who meditate, the process is a discipline meant to empty the mind through mental control while allowing the self to be hyper sensitive to whatever the individual is meditating on (this is my personal understanding of it, but this may vary) whether it be God, Love, art, surroundings, etc. There is, inevitably, a sense of the esoteric in this idea as one may question how meditation on a specific thing can be possible with the intention of emptying the mind. However, this is very easily understood with the reintroduction of openness. There is no intellectual pushing, only a very wide and encompassing direction that the individual opens themselves to through emotion. In the case of the listener, music is that direction. It is, in a sense, a merging with the music, and thus, a merging with the expression of the composer and performer. Such a connection is, in my opinion, the real gift that we enjoy through the artistic process.