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  • Writer's picturerhapsodydmb


Updated: Feb 2

Some think that a discussion of a music genre or particular composition is concluded by focusing on evaluating the matters of artistry and technique. Some may say that it really doesn't matter in the end because, after all, it comes down to "art is in the eye and music is in the ear of the beholder."

I think it does matter.

It seemed curious to me not long ago when discussing a piece of music interpreted by two pianists, after outlining no less than six objections "and I could go on" regarding one of those pianists, the person declared that anyway, "who cares?" and "but so what?" if I found to the contrary, because it's all a matter of personal preference. Why then, did they bother to go on for so long and in such detail?

Examining music is a broader process for me. Quite often I find the benefit is not to concentrate on the nitty gritty, that is, not to focus exclusively or mainly on evaluating some pedalling technique or how a phrase ends or if the rubato was pushed "too far" or the rhythm screwed up, but rather to see, hear, and feel if the music (melody and harmony) opens me up to significant or deep feeling. It's even more relevant and powerful to me if the composition or the particular pianist plucks the harp strings deeply embedded in my heart and opens my ear to "hear" what the composer has written and the pianist is transmitting through their own perspective and skill.

Since as a retired pianist happy with her amateur status and because I'm not a conservatory student and don't have to pass any musical exams, when discussing music I'm most interested in sharing the joy of some discovery in my hearing, or some observation of structure or dynamics or tone that is new to me in the presentation.

It is the joy of the process of discovery that most delights me these days and not whether the composition is a "bad" piece of music or misinterpreted by the instrumentalist.

In that sense, there is no such thing as a "bad" piece of music.

Of course, I always appreciate what I can learn from "hearing" music from someone else's evaluation of the piece. However, first and foremost, I want to know how the presentation made that person feel or what new they noticed, or yes, what "defects" they observed. I can then go re-listen and test my ear: did I hear the same or something different?

I love it when a friend helps me hear music better, that is, in more detail and nuance, but also listens carefully to and cares about what I think, observe, hear, and feel. Such discussions are not pleasant if replete with words of "it's undeniable that this is true" or in the end, "who cares?" and the like.

Sharing and hearing are two inevitably intertwined activities for me when it comes to music. And as philosopher Simon Weil said, “The rarest and purest form of generosity is attention.“ Attention means listening first and foremost. If someone seeks to be kind and caring or perceives of oneself as that, then listening first to understand the other person's basic message and point of view but not first get hung up in detail, would seem required. There’s a lovely article on hearing and listening in the New York Times Sunday opinion section, July 23 by David George Haskell, a professor at the University of the South and a biologist. In "The Birds Are Singing, But Not for Me" he explains that these days he "listens more and with greater pleasure than in previous years" and doing so with other people helps. He is losing his hearing slowly, as are we all in an inevitable process of aging, only in mid-life he is losing his hearing faster than most. He says that we “hear the diversity of human voices“ and “follow vibrations back to their sources, some beautiful in life, affirming like the music of other species and others broken, such as excessive and unjust noise...paying attention in community can bring delight in the moment, and is a defiant and joyful answer to evolution's request." I want to share discussions about music that are caring, beautiful, and life-affirming, ones that lift me up and encourage my enthusiasm and continuing curiosity in an open mode of learning, rather than result in me feeling dismissed for all that. To me, that approach is one that supports a broader musical ecology so that individually and together, we grow appreciation for the arts and music in society and contribute to a sense of individual well-being in the often difficult process of living. For certain in discussions of music I don’t want to be a tedious, imposing bore, but the responsibility lies on both sides of a musical interchange, and clearly in any friendship, to manage the balance and continuity of relationship, which takes time, patience, careful choice of words, attention, and simply wanting to make it persist.

Above all, I just want more "affirming vibrations" on my heart's harp strings!

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