When I was little and chattered too much, my mum used to say “Susan Ellen! (She always used my ‘Sunday name’ when I was in trouble) You know it’s no accident that you have two ears and only one mouth. Do shush and listen for a moment.”
And then, by no surprise, I became a teacher: traditionally a role perceived as more about talking than listening. Listening isn’t something that is overtly taught in teacher training college, but I believe it should be.
In part 2 of The Lost Art of Listening, we started to look at how we can analyse music through the process of identifying our initial impulses and reactions to it and then begin to think about the building blocks that go to produce these.
To briefly recap, we quickly and uncritically wrote down a list of qualitative words in response to hearing a piece of music. We then thought, in non-technical terms, about what produced these impressions and sought to label each of our responses according to the 5 fundamentals of: Timbre, Volume, Pitch, Texture and Time.
In part 1 of 'The Lost Art of Listening’, I looked at how we have become somewhat conditioned to accept music as ambient sound. I suggested that you and your students take some time to really listen to some music. We didn’t stipulate what kind of music and I’m not interested in discussing genre or the subjective value of different kinds of music here. What I’d like to focus on this time are the building blocks of music: if you like the ‘macro’ of music. We can then later-on delve into the ‘micro’.
So what are the fundamental elements of what we call ‘music’? Hands up anyone?
Who says: melody, harmony, key, meter, rhythm? Well, you’d not be wrong to suggest those things - but we can actually go one step further away and look at music on an even more fundamental level.
In your work as a teacher, how often do you come into contact with music? Maybe you are a music specialist, in which case the answer might be ‘all the time’. Perhaps you work in dance or drama and see music as integral to your work there. You might incorporate songs within your teaching to help students better understand another subject altogether. Or perhaps you run an art department and have music in the background to engender a mood or atmosphere. Whichever might be the case, can you say that you actively listen to the music you are using? What does it mean to listen actively?
We have become ever more accustomed to hearing music in our daily lives, more or less as environmental noise, whether it be accompanying breakfast-time news bulletins, underscoring urgent advertising messages or simply from a radio left on to provide ambience at home or in the workplace. In the context of film, television or computer gaming, music has become an essential ingredient, sometimes at a frightening rate of decibels. It’s rare to encounter a public space where music is not present in some form or other and many web sites also use music to underpin a message or signpost a particular sensibility.