Listening As An Event

Listening to LIVE art music is a true EVENT!

In the past, listening to live concert music headed the social scene like movies and sporting events do today. Families frequented the art music concert hall or salon with great regularity. In the 1600’s, opera brought in the masses – Venice had 7 opera houses working full time all year round! In the 1700’s, the symphony flourished as a hugely popular musical event, the Mannheim Orchestra in Germany setting the bar extremely high for excellence in skilled, musical playing. Listening to 3 to 4 symphonies in a sitting was a common event!

In the 1800’s, solo recitals came in vogue led by one of the greatest piano virtuosos of all times, Franz Liszt. Check out one of his pieces played by world-class pianist, Lang Lang:

Today, music is still popular, but in very different ways.

How many times do you and your family go to live art music concerts? How many times have you had the privilege of hearing a live chamber group play, a live choral performance, a symphony, a professional solo recital, or a brass or wind ensemble? How often do you go to a party in someone’s house and hear a live classical group playing music? How often do you and your friends sit down and listen to music without doing anything else – just listening?

Likely your answers to the above questions are “not too often”, if at all! How did the popularity of listening to live art music change in our society? Musicologists sight two major influences as foundations for this change: recorded music and the age of visual stimulus.

Prior to the age of recorded music, live performance was the only way to hear music. When people wanted to hear music (which was a true passion for society at that time) it was an event! People dressed up and went to sit and listen to the music. Once recorded music became available, people could listen anytime they wished. In some ways, this was and is fantastic. With Spotify, for example, people can access thousands of master works right in their own home! In this way, classical music is more available than ever!

What is the down side? Well, think about what you do when you listen to music? Do you do home work? Talk and hang out with your friends? Work out? Eat dinner? Shop? Drive? Music became a sideshow to other ‘main events’; it became background music.

Classical or art music is not something that can be truly experienced while doing something else. It requires one’s full attention. Imagine reading a book and, while you are reading it, you are lifting weights or running, doing a math worksheet, or shooting hoop with your friends. How much of that book is getting your attention?

It is the same thing with music. It requires your full attention. The advent of recorded music, while bringing it to mass availability, crushed the listening skills of its audience.
Electronic media, from movies, to video games, to television, also played an important role in minimizing listening skills. Our age is visual. It is very difficult for most people to simply listen without any visual stimulus. Music happens in time, not space. There is really nothing to see – it is aural. Music requires authentic time and patience; a willingness to stop all other activities, even the mind’s chatter, and to be simply present in the sound. The solution? Listen. Listen as an event -- regularly!

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How to Listen to Music - Daniel Barenboim

Image Credit:

Burford, Melanie. Daniel Barenboim conducts Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2. NPR Music. February 1, 2013.