Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Act of Listening

I just put up a post rather critical of some festival organizers who seem to have no awareness of what is involved in listening to music. My sense is that few people these days actually know how to listen. I suspect this is in self-defence because we are the victims of countless sound-assaults every day in the modern world: boom-box cars, motorcycles, radios, televisions, outdoor sound systems and ones in malls and other places that play music. And on and on! We don't listen because we, mostly, don't want to hear!

But suppose you do want to listen to a piece you chose yourself out of actual interest, not something inflicted on you. Here is how to proceed: find an adequate recording of the music. Let me interrupt myself to say that this should actually be your second option. The best is to attend a performance of it. Wait, perhaps even better is to play through it yourself. But leaving that aside, you have arranged to hear the piece in some way. By the way, hearing the piece, i.e. listening to the piece, means without interference or interruption. Just the piece, nothing else. But, depending on the piece, some preparation might be in order. If the piece in question is the latest Katy Perry video, then perhaps not much. You are going to laugh, but I often look up even pop stars on Wikipedia--they have articles, often quite informative, on everyone. But let's say it is a piece of classical music. Perhaps a piece by Bach. Let's say you want to listen to the Magnificat by Bach. Well, first thing I would suggest is to read the Wikipedia article on Bach which is here. As befits the importance of his music, the article is pretty thorough and well worth your time. Next, as the Magnificat is a pretty well-known piece, it has its own article, which is here. Short one, but it includes the text. Now what I would do at this point is get the score because if I want to really listen to something, I hate to do it unless I have the score. At concerts in London, publishers set up tables outside so you can buy the score to works being performed. At least they used to... Here is where you can find the score to the Magnificat at the International Music Score Library. Scores, actually, as there are a lot available--the first one on the list is a reproduction of Bach's original manuscript! Why don't you do this even if you don't read music? See if you can follow along. You will definitely pick up something. Next, you want to find a performance. These days, you can find almost anything on YouTube, usually in multiple versions. Here is the Bach Magnificat:

God that's ....... magnificent!


RG said...

Magnificat anima mea Dominum
Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν κύριον
תְּגַדֵּל נַפְשִׁי אֶת־יְהוָֹה
My soul magnifies the Lord.
My whole being declares how great the Lord is.

cf Psalm 103:1
בָּרְכִי נַפְשִׁי אֶת-יְהוָה וְכָל-קְרָבַי
My soul and all within me bless the Lord...

cf I Sam 2 as parallel

Casual note: I wonder why the Bach video chooses to display:
"dispersit superbos"
he scatters the haughty.
Perhaps to remind us to humble enough to focus on listening to the music rather than allowing ourselves to be distracted.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for the languages! YouTube displays a random frame from the clip until you click on it.

If you do decide to try and follow in the score, the easiest one to follow would be one of the vocal/piano ones.