A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with a bright young man. At some point, the discussion turned to music, then to listening to music.
He told me that he had tried something new recently. He put on his headphones, closed his eyes and sat still, doing nothing but listen. It was extraordinary, he said. Listening without doing anything else was a revelation. He found subtlety in the recording that he’d never noticed. He found himself immersed in the music in a way he’d never experienced before.
I was stunned. It had never occurred to me that someone could not have had this experience until his mid-20s.
We continued the conversation, agreeing that music is deeply gratifying when it absorbs our whole being. Our thoughts may wander, but we are alone with the music, and the experience is wonderful.
I relayed this story to a friend, a musician and music teacher. She touched my arm eyes open wide, not sure what to say, other than “John”.
I have since looked, listened and thought quite a bit about that day. Music is everywhere and nowhere. Kids enjoy time together, one earbud for each friend. People walk, talk, cycle, while half-listening to tunes. Road noise makes in-car music barely musical. And, of course, music has been cheapened in every retail shop for decades. Fragments of music pour out of every imaginable medium.
Is anyone listening? I mean really listening.
But after a bit of general sadness for music and our psyches, I realized that I have largely abandoned listening. I listen on a computer, or tablet, or phone. Or I put up with sonic crap in the supermarket. But I’d stopped stopping to listen.
So, I made a conscious effort to listen. To listen while doing nothing else but being alone with music.
Now, I set aside some time to sit in my big comfortable chair, and listen to a full disc on my stereo. Just me in the room. No books, no work, nothing to twiddle in my fingers. Just music and me. It’s been a revelation.
The music brings me more joy than it has for years. I am peaceful during and after listening. I am focused. And I am happy.
Most startling of all is how clearly I hear music when it is not playing. Like everyone else, tunes and fragments of remembered music pop into my head at unexpected times. But during these past few weeks, music has been presenting itself with greater clarity and for a greater duration than it has for years. I had not noticed the decline until I was presented with the ascent.
Do yourself a favour, please. Go listen to something. Just you and the music all alone. No distractions.
It’ll be beautiful.