James Tobin responding to me:
>>There are times that I think music might be better served by not having
>>programs at concerts so one could listen without as many expectations...
>But still others, with open minds and little acquaintance with a work,
>might simply have too much to process to get a decent handle on the
>work. In the case of a new or unfamiliar work, it can make a difference
>to know if it is, just for instance, an unterrupted work of ten minutes
>duration or a long work with several contrasing sections. And good
>program notes--or live pre-concert commentary--can create landmarks to
>listen for along the way.
Agreed...however, what I am suggesting is a sort of "force feeding" which
requires active listening. I cannot help but wonder if listeners might
be better served by developing the ability to listen to music on its own
terms, versus having aids to a work. That way, they can develop a road
map for all music, not just a single piece.
I am reminded of some great music writers that, after hearing a work
once, were able to comment on it intelligently. As I write this...I
don't even know the history of "program notes." I would guess for a
Brahms Symphony, they just played it. True, there were some expectations
what a Symphony by Brahms might be like, but then, what could have
prepared anyone for the Beethoven Third or the Berlioz Fantastique?
But for much of the history of western art music, there has been a set
of expectations, not unlike the same formal expectations one has in
popular music today.
I am also reminded of that "listening quiz" we had recently, with the
Stenhammer Piano Concerto excerpt. I listened very carefully, several
times, to just a few measures of music. I was reminded how much information
could be contained in so few notes. I didn't recognize the passage, yet
I have two recordings of the work and had "listened" to it several
times...giving myself a break... it was several years ago...but the
process of trying to identify the piece forced me to be more active in
>As in blind auditions. But those are done to ensure fairness on an
>equal playing field. With newcomers or not well known soloists this
>might be a good thing. But with established soloists anticipation of
>a certain kind of playing or degree of brilliance can be confirmed or
>defeated on a particular occasion for the informed critic or listener,
>so the review might suffer in these cases.
I didn't really intend to suggest the process of blind auditions, as
that seems to me to be a competition, as one might audition for the first
chair in an orchestra.
It seems to me that we often judge too much by comparison and base
decisions on trends and "names." Sometimes I think we might overlook
music because it is "too conservative" for its time, or out of step. We
might find a certain performance aesthetic to be appropriate at one time,
and yet inappropriate for our time.
For me, listening without having advanced information as to the name of
composer or the performer, might lead listeners to being less passive
and more involved in the process of the music. I cannot help but wonder
if the passive consumption of music is its worst enemy and that anything
we can do to encourage and promote active listening, to music on its own
terms, will ultimately benefit the art.
I would love to hear other thoughts about this...Is active listening a
good thing for music. Is it too much to expect people to listen to music
on its own terms? Or has the recording, and our lack of active participation
in the process of making music, left us with, almost exclusively, listening
on the narrative, or sensual level? If so, are these ways of listening
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